It is well-know that computer science has a diversity problem; in spite of African-Americans comprising about 13% of the US population the employees of well-known tech companies Twitter and Facebook are only 2% African-American. Over the years many initiatives have tried to reverse this trend, but have had limited impact. In Virginia, in 2018, while 80% of Caucasian students were passing the Computer Science Principles (CSP) AP test, only 42% of African-Americans were passing that same test. In raw numbers, that means that 865 Caucasian students were well-positioned for success in computer science as they leave high school, compared with only 98 African-Americans. Computer Science, as a field, is actually becoming less diverse!
To reverse this trend we propose an innovative approach to teaching computer science to middle-school, minoritized youth, Code Beats, which addresses key barriers such as engagement and inclusion. Code Beats is a curriculum that we are developing that teaches youth computer science fundamentals as they write code that generates realistic-sounding hip hop beats. By using hip hop, which is culturally-relevant to these students, we expect students will feel like they belong, which addresses a commonly-cited reason that minoritized youth stop attending other camps or clubs (e.g., MineCraft-based camps tend to favor Caucasian and Asian students). Furthermore, because students are generating beats, instead of sorting linked lists, they will be much more engaged. To deliver this material we will run a one-week code camp for middle-schoolers. It will culminate in a concert, held at a popular venue like the BroadBerry, where a local rapper who will perform on top of the student’s beat.