TheCounty.ME: Area youth learn computer coding at Caribou Public Library

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Area youth learn computer coding at Caribou Public Library

Robert Hohman teachers a group of about half a dozen teens and pre-teens about the basics of coding during a Sept. 8 class at the Caribou Public Library. (Chris Bouchard)

CARIBOU, Maine — Teens and pre-teens at Caribou Public Library were introduced to the world of computer coding and programming on Oct. 8 during one of many technology-based classes hosted by Robert Hohman.

While Hohman has taught classes at the library in the past as an AmeriCorps volunteer, this class was taught through Hard Scrabble Solutions, a private business started by both Hohman and Lillie Lavado that is based in Presque Isle.

“We’re teaching a lot of classes,” he said, “and it’s not just computer-related as some activities cover basic STEM [Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics] subjects for kids.”

Hohman said that he and Lavado discovered that classes based around computers and technology were particularly popular amongst younger kids, adding that this class is their first time instructing students who are at high school or middle school levels.

The Oct. 8 class was the first of six, and Hohman said he geared the first lesson to be more of an introduction that covers the basics of programming and web development.

“Computer programming and web development can be kind of confusing,” he said, “especially in a place like this where there aren’t many places to learn it, or even many people doing it in the County.”

Hohman has a background as a web developer, which he incorporates into his lessons.

“There’s a certain type of problem solving that programmers and developers do every day,” he said, “and it isn’t all that dissimilar from what carpenters or other working trades do. But in this case, everything’s abstract. Nothing is tangible or touchable, so the class will be thinking about how to apply those problem-solving techniques to certain programming languages.”

While a myriad of programming languages exist, Hohman’s class is geared toward both JavaScript and Python, which are among the most popular online today. He said he also wants to teach programming fundamentals that could be applied when learning other programming languages.

“I would imagine that a 14-or 15-year-old taking this class, by the time they’re an adult, those programming languages might not be popular anymore,” he said. “So there’s definitely some principal stuff that we’re teaching, and really touching on the basics.”

Hohman said he has taught students ranging from ages as young as 6 all the way up to 80, and that while he may apply some differences in teaching styles depending on the class, the process of learning these skills “is about the same for everyone.”

“Whether or not you’re used to using a certain interface,” he said, “I almost think it doesn’t matter, because ultimately they’re tools. And we all want tools to work the same way.”

By the end of the class, he said he hopes that students will be able to “evaluate and build solutions to simple computer programming problems and understand what it means to be a developer,” adding that it ultimately depends on the class and what they hope to learn.

“It will depend a bit on the level of the class,” he said, “and if there is a desire to go really far with it, we’ll do that, but if we want to hang out in the shallow end and explore other stuff, we can do that too. I’m waiting to see what everyone wants to do, rather than going over people’s heads with everything.”

Caribou Public Library Director Hope Shafer said Hohman’s classes have been “under great demand” at the library.

“We get calls all the time asking if we’re going to be offering another beginning computer class, or for an intermediate Word class, or for a PowerPoint class,” she said. “So we’re gathering names and phone numbers all the time so we can get a group together, and once we do we’ll put out some information on our Facebook page.”

Hohman has taught between 75 and 100 classes throughout Aroostook County, and said that if anyone has any questions for him, he can be reached via the HardScrabble Solutions website or via phone at (207) 551-7872.