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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Advancing computer science education from middle school to high school to college and beyond

By progressing through a series of immersive summer camps, middle and high school students gain and develop critical computational science skills to prepare them for higher education and future careers.

At the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, a summer camp is more than just a stand-alone science experience: It’s part of a larger, multicamp pathway into coding, stretching from middle school to high school and beyond.

As part of Argonne’s commitment to support the growth of future science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) leaders, Argonne hosts multiple interconnected summer camps that focus on a critical STEM field: coding and computational science.

I’ve done two camps with Argonne before; as soon as I’m old enough for the next camp, I sign up. Each coding camp has a different focus, so I like the variety of discovering something new each time.” — Sofi Rodriguez, Big Data Camp student

Learning to code is critical in our increasingly digital workplace and society,” said John Domyancich, Argonne’s Learning Center lead. These computational skills open up countless pathways and opportunities. To be most effective, we need to introduce and support the skills in middle and high school. Therefore, we design these camps to build students’ confidence and competence in writing code to investigate and solve problems.”

A DOE Office of Science user facility, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) plays a key role in the summer camps by helping develop the curriculum, teach coding lessons and lead facility tours that give students a firsthand look at the lab’s supercomputers.

Big Data Camp students learn about Aurora, Argonne’s future supercomputer. (Image by Argonne / Educational Programs and Outreach.)

The first camp to take place each summer is CodeGirls. The five-day program serves as a first step for sixth- and seventh-grade girls to discover coding for the first time, no prior experience or knowledge necessary. More than simply introducing girls to coding basics like the Python coding language, the camp also invites female lab researchers to visit the camp and share how they turned their coding interests into successful careers.

12-year-old Isabella Schultz, after participating in CodeGirls this summer, plans to apply what she learned about coding platforms at the camp to weather projects in a meteorology club that she founded at school.

Like CodeGirls, Coding for Science Camp focuses primarily on Python and does not require students to have past coding experience either. However, Coding for Science Camp welcomes high school students instead of middle schoolers, and therefore offers more detailed and challenging experiences. In particular, Coding for Science features programming activities that link computational science with current scientific challenges like disease modeling.

Before, I thought that STEM and coding fields were good, but they weren’t for me — they wouldn’t be that interesting or challenging,” said high school camper Akshara Arvind. I was definitely wrong, because there’s a lot more once you start getting into coding.”

Joseph Insley, Argonne’s Visualization and Data Analysis team lead, shares his work at the ALCF with students from Big Data Camp. (Image by Argonne / Educational Programs and Outreach.)

Finally, Big Data Camp, offered solely to high school juniors and seniors, creates a professional, workshop-style environment that not only advances students’ computing skills but also prepares them for STEM pathways into college and future careers. Many of the Big Data campers have already participated in previous Argonne camps and programs. In fact, some students signed up for Big Data Camp because they enjoyed the previous camp(s).

I’ve done two camps with Argonne before; as soon as I’m old enough for the next camp, I sign up,” said Big Data camper Sofi Rodriguez. Each coding camp has a different focus, so I like the variety of discovering something new each time. In fact, Big Data Camp helped me realize that I can combine computer science with my other interests like psychology, and pursue a career that supports both interests.”

The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility provides supercomputing capabilities to the scientific and engineering community to advance fundamental discovery and understanding in a broad range of disciplines. Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science, Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, the ALCF is one of two DOE Leadership Computing Facilities in the nation dedicated to open science.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.