South Brunswick teens create Junior Coding Association to teach computer science to students locally and abroad

SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Over the past year, friends Jeffrey Paulraj and Adityaa Magesh Kumar created and expanded an education-based nonprofit organization, the Junior Coding Association, across international borders.
The South Brunswick High School seniors started out in November 2019 with the goal of creating a free and immersive education in computer science that would be accessible to students in elementary and middle school.
“This would help these students develop a passion for computer science and pursue it in high school, college and beyond,” Jeffrey said.
The two equally divide the work of creating and monitoring lessons. They created a series of video lessons and corresponding assignments which covered the breadth of an introductory computer science course, and used tools like EdPuzzle, which is an educational video-sharing service, and Google Classroom to disperse their material, Jeffrey said.
“Since we use the flipped classroom approach, students can access our lessons at any time; however, we usually set a one-week deadline on our assignments.
“We also recruit volunteers to grade the assignments and offer personalized feedback for each of our students’ assignments; we have worked with our public library to award service hours to our volunteers,” he said.
They hold monthly check-ins at the public library.
“We had a strong response, with more than 30 students coming to our first session. Once social distancing and quarantine went into effect in March, we decided to start a new class and opened it to all ages.
“To date, we have approximately 100 registrations in seven countries, including Nigeria, Kenya and Pakistan. In the past few months, Adityaa and I have been advertising our new class starting in September and have also led a seminar sharing our story,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey said they were able to expand internationally by contacting popular social media pages to post fliers regarding their classes and spread the organization’s mission of providing quality computer science education for free.

Students can access the lessons at whatever time is best for them, eliminating the time barrier, he said.

“Since we use Google Classroom for communications, which has Google Translate built in, we haven’t had any problems with the language barrier. Also, code is a universal language.

“Other than a few keywords like ‘for,’ ‘if’ and ‘print,’ most of our code consists of numbers and other non-alphabetic characters.

“While this may seem complicated, we have actually seen kids picking up the material pretty quickly as we use diagrams and examples to illustrate each concept,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey’s interest in coding began when he saw how many applications there are in the real world.
“If you take a look at any industry in the world right now, chances are it’s been revolutionized by computer science in the last 10 years. When I took my introductory computer science class in high school, I was able to adapt to the material pretty well and decided to get more involved with computer science,” he said.

He plans to pursue computer science in college and continue to explore its different applications in varied fields.

Adityaa said he is interested in coding because he is enthralled by technology and its ability to influence the world.

“Computer science is especially intriguing to me because it allows one to create websites, apps and other services that can be of great use in people’s daily lives.

“I became deeply engaged in computer science in high school and since then, I continue exploring the vast field of opportunities it presents,” he said.

Adityaa has an interest in machine learning, data science, web development, etc.; he said he will likely apply as a computer science major in college.

So far, both students have taken Advanced Placement Computer Science and Android Mobile App Development at South Brunswick High School, and will be taking classes in Virtual Reality and Data Structures this year.

“We are really fortunate to have such an extensive computer science department at our school,” Adityaa said.

They have taught themselves other programming languages and concepts, such as Python, JavaScript, databases and web development.

“We believe students have a lot to gain from computer science. For one, simply writing code and trying to make it as efficient as possible really improves your analytic thinking skills and really helps you to identify patterns and trends even in other areas of life.

“Also, having a computer science background will help you no matter what field you decide to pursue a career in. If you are going into finance, you can use computer science to determine trends in stocks.

“If you are going into entrepreneurship, you can use computer science to create appealing websites. If you are going into the humanities, you can use computer science to identify trends in the way people have responded to different events or ideas. Everyone has something to gain from computer science,” Adityaa said.

Overall, they see a huge benefit to learning coding and enjoy teaching their fellow classmates and younger students.

“Since computer science has grown so much in the last few years, there are many more opportunities in the field and more students who are interested in it.

“However, this also means it is hard to find a place to start. Because of this, many students feel overwhelmed when they start learning computer science or avoid the field altogether.

“At Junior Coding Association, we try to simplify computer science concepts to a point where students in elementary school can understand and enjoy it. Students can spend as much or as little time on a topic as the need to, and have 24/7 access to Adityaa and I through Google Classroom.

“By giving students this proper introduction to computer science, without them feeling the pressure to reach benchmarks at specific points of time, we have found that students really enjoy their experience with us. In fact, we have seen some of our students create their own projects and share them with us,” Jeffrey said.

Adityaa added, “I believe it’s important to give back to one’s community. My experience with high school computer science has served as a catalyst for my passion in the field.

“Through the Junior Coding Association, I hope to remove any learning obstacles or curves that may otherwise be present when there is a lack of personal assistance. I don’t want to see peers and younger students struggling and unable to receive help in computer science classes.

“Junior Coding Association can combat this by preparing students for the rigors of computer science while offering a personalized experience. On top of that, a basic understanding of computer science will likely be necessary in the future to be successful in various jobs.”

Individuals of all ages can register for their next session, which begins later this month.

The Google registration form is available at https://forms.gle/4gDYoy94hsQpdGnk9

For more information about the Junior Coding Association, visit www.juniorcodingassociation.com/
Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com