FCSN Youth Volunteer Aarav Sharma Engages Special Needs Students in Programming and Pre-Algebra

Written by: Aaron Zhou, FCSN Voices Youth Reporter

Graphics by: Kaitlyn Huynh, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist

Throughout the past two years, Archbishop Mitty High School Sophomore Aarav Sharma taught a 12-week Scratch Language class and one-week Pre-Algebra summer camp for FCSN students. With the objective of helping special needs students gain confidence and motivation to pursue STEM in the future, both courses successfully provided an interactive and enlightening experience for its students.

Sharma is an experienced programmer who teaches online STEM courses through his own non-for-profit organization, TheCoderSquad. He also instructed a two-week badminton summer camp this summer at FCSN and donated therapy kits to the organization after completing a paid internship. To continue giving back to his community, Sharma created curriculums for the Pre-Algebra and Scratch language courses (from scratch) and opened the classes for FCSN students.

Sharma poses with students from the Scratch class

Developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) associates, Scratch is a visual programming language designed to introduce young children to coding. Sharma’s FCSN Scratch language class offered two six-week online classes, guiding students through the basics of the language. Having prior experience with Scratch, Sharma chose the language because of its interactive features and graphics.

To maintain the students’ interest, Sharma centered the class topics on simple game design and basic tools such as motion and control blocks. The students also particularly enjoyed Blooket, a modern classroom game in which Sharma hosted trivia-style quizzes to review knowledge covered in the lessons. During the coding process, the moving ScratchCat (computer-generated icon) also captured the students’ attention and improved their proficiency with the programming functions. “My favorite part is to see their growth and [happiness] while the Scratch cats [are] moving on their screens,” Sharma said. 

FCSN students enjoying the Scratch class

While the Scratch course focused on in-class engagement, Sharma centered the Pre-Algebra camp with hands-on problem solving. Unlike the Scratch course, Sharma assigned daily homework for the students and provided in-depth explanations of the problems during class. “I [made sure] to assign homework and go over problems the next day,” Sharma said. “Parents really appreciated this [hands-on] concept.”

According to Sharma, the greatest challenge he faced while teaching the classes was accounting for age and skill differences. To address this issue, Sharma adjusted problem difficulties depending on each student’s knowledge level. By the end of the courses, students developed fundamentals and gained problem solving experience. More importantly, Sharma achieved his goal of helping the students gain confidence in pursuing STEM as special needs children. “STEM can make the future brighter. It provides special needs children the knowledge and independence to pursue their future goals,” Sharma said.

FCSN students interacting with Sharma in the Pre-Algebra camp

In the future, Sharma plans to continue teaching FCSN students STEM-related courses. “I have already worked with FCSN directors to post a new [online] Python class,” Sharma said. “It’s on the FCSN website, and we’ll be starting the course very soon.”

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