Journey to self-growth through teaching kids to code 

In this Digital Scholars summer project, Parisa Soltanian acquired digital skills — and learned about strategic communications, time management and patience.

Preparing for a summer-long project with the Digital Scholars Program, Parisa Soltanian hoped she would find a project that closely tied in with her newfound passion for computer science. 

What the third-year pre-major at the University of Washington Bothell did not expect was that the opportunity would also involve doing something she was not yet passionate about: teaching children to code. 

“I’m an only child, and I don’t have children in my life,” Soltanian said. “The thought of teaching them was scary and overwhelming. But it turns out, they’re really fun, and I kind of love them now.” 

Launched in spring 2021, the Digital Scholars Program provides first-generation students with training in digital marketing, data analytics, social media, data visualization and other skills over three academic quarters. During the summer quarter, students work with a community partner on a project to apply their skills in the real world, just as they would in an internship or job. 

Discovering a passion 

The daughter of a medical assistant and an aerospace engineer, Soltanian always knew she’d go to college one day. She grew up in Kenmore, Washington, and began studying at Cascadia College as a Running Start student while still at Inglemoor High School. With her love of math, she thought mechanical engineering would be the perfect fit for her, but quickly discovered that wasn’t the case when taking a physics class. 

So she decided to give computer science a try when she transferred to UW Bothell in autumn 2022. And in an introductory computer science course, she knew she’d found her passion. 

Changing majors wasn’t easy, however, and the idea of having to take more classes in a field where she didn’t have any experience or connections felt daunting, Soltanian said. That’s when her adviser recommended she apply for the Digital Scholars Program. 

I love being a part of this program. It’s exactly for people like me who maybe don’t know what direction they’re going in or how to get to where they want to be. I have all these ideas and goals, but I don’t really know where to start looking,” she said. 

When the cohort was given a list of projects to choose from, the project that caught her eye was teaching summer camps at Coding with Kids, a coding academy for K-12 students. 

“The other projects seemed very interesting and cool, but they didn’t have as much to do with coding and computer science as I wanted them to,” Soltanian said. “I wanted to put what I’m studying into practice.” 

I love being a part of this program. It’s exactly for people like me who maybe don’t know what direction they’re going in or how to get to where they want to be.

Parisa Soltanian, Digital Scholar

Learning to teach

After expressing her interest in the coding academy, Soltanian got support and advice from program staff as she moved through the interview process and then started working at the camps in summer 2023. 

“Parisa was really nervous about teaching kids. I listened and reassured her that she would get training from the Coding with Kids team,” said Kara Adams, director of connected learning. “As the quarter went on, she expressed more confidence in her ability to work with kids, and she would share about the moments she really enjoyed teaching them.” 

Soltanian taught camps both in person and online, with students ranging from 5 to 12 years old. Although her first week of teaching felt overwhelming, she said she also quickly came to appreciate the experience of watching children learn a simplified version of a complex digital skill. 

“One of the kids, a 5-year-old boy, had fully completed six coding languages already. I haven’t even done that much,” she said. “I was really impressed by how smart they are and how fast they learn.” 

As part of her preparation to teach, the academy provided her with a curriculum that used video games as a fun hands-on way for students to dip their toes into basic coding concepts. It was particularly rewarding to teach kids the mechanics behind games such as Minecraft, she said, adding that this was something she wished she’d learned as a child. 

Exercising patience 

Apart from discovering a love for working with children, Soltanian also said the experience impacted her in another unexpected way — her frame of mind. 

“I’ve been talking about this nonstop because I think it’s the craziest thing ever, but I really do feel like I have been growing a lot personally and having more patience in my day-to-day life than I ever have,” Soltanian said. 

She is doing better, for example, handling those trying moments people face each day, such as when someone cuts her off in traffic. 

A person at a computer projecting a game on a screen with two children at a desk nearby.
Parisa Soltanian teaches kids to code using a video game.

“There’s that moment of frustration and being super upset, but things like that have been lessening for me,” she said. “I think it’s because so much patience and understanding is required to work with kids.” 

Soltanian recalled one student who would cry when he accidentally clicked on the wrong screen. Children who lack basic troubleshooting skills can struggle with what to do when a webpage isn’t loading, she said, and teaching them often requires pausing from the core coding lesson to show them how to do other simple tasks. 

“You have to be calm and peaceful with them, and I really feel like that’s been reflected in my personal life,” she said, adding that her newfound skill of patience has become an asset when she goes to her job at a restaurant, too. 

“If I did meditation every day for the last year, I feel like I would be where I am now — but instead I’ve just been working with children every day for a whole summer.” 

Applying new skills

From patience to communication techniques to time management, Soltanian said she gained many useful skills and insights over the summer. 

“I think what Parisa gained from participating in the project is how to translate her coding skills into different levels of pedagogical strategies as she teaches kids how to code,” said Dr. Hsinmei Lin, co-director of the Digital Scholars Program and a lecturer in UW Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

“Communication skills are essential to teaching and supporting students, and in Parisa’s case, I believe she has gained the skills of networking, professionalization in an educational setting and digital strategic communications.” 

Soltanian said her work at Coding with Kids even helped her gain a deeper understanding of the topics she was teaching the children. 

“I’ve been solidifying the concepts and logic behind coding. When kids ask me questions, I have to give them reasons as to why something won’t work, or why it works the way it does, and explain it to them in a basic way,” Soltanian said. “It’s helped me grasp a better idea of what coding is and what it can do.” 

A future in computer science

While she is still uncertain exactly what she wants to do after graduation in 2026, Soltanian has become keenly interested in how computer science can be used to help people. 

She’s particularly inspired by work being done by Microsoft and Harborview Medical Center to develop games and controls for people with paraplegia. “I think that’s super cool that they can use this technology to help people who are in need or who don’t have the same opportunities as others,” she said. “I’d like to do something like that at some point, because, of course, you want to do something that’s meaningful and that helps the world somehow.” 

Soltanian said she plans to continue teaching through Coding with Kids during the 2023-24 school year. And, yes, she will be applying to become a Computer Science & Software Engineering major.  

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