Richa Arora (left) and Siyona Gangidi

The sourdough starter and the backyard shiitake logs you nursed during pandemic lockdown might be cool, but they’ll never be “Nine-year-old learns coding and builds a jam band app” cool. Sorry! So went the summer of 2020 for Siyona Gangidi, a fourth-grade student at Don R. Roberts Elementary School in the Little Rock School District whose collaborative app for music composition, “Band Fun,” is a finalist in a contest for young coders called “18u18.” We talked with Siyona about her project, and with Siyona’s mother, Richa Arora, about why we should help kids learn to code. 

So is fourth grade a lot different than third?

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Not really! At least not to me. 

Tell me about the Band Fun app! What would I do if I wanted to use it? 

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My app is a social networking app to help musicians interact with each other easily, and create bands. 

When did you first get the idea?

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My inspiration for the app was because I love music, and I play the violin. I also got into the Prelude [Orchestra] Arkansas Symphony for kids, so for this project I wanted to combine how I love music and the project together. 

Richa, I suppose you might know a thing or two about how valuable coding experience is for Siyona, because you work in an IT field yourself, yes?

Richa: Yes. I work in IT — me and my husband both. Coding is everywhere, and will be especially in the years to come. They’re talking about artificial intelligence, and even surgeries being performed as much as possible in an automated fashion. So we definitely understand that in this time, even if the kids don’t grow up to be actual coders, that the thought processes — the critical thinking and the problem solving that come with learning how to code — are very important. It can help them understand advanced concepts and apply a step-by-step approach to build up something or to debug. 

How did y’all get involved with the coding program in the online learning platform BYJU’S FutureSchool? 

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Richa: So that started during the pandemic, early on, when schools were closed, and kids had a  lot of time at home, and there was not much learning going on. I was worried about her getting behind, so I started looking for options to supplement the development. At that time she was taking twice-a-week coding lessons. And then as she started working and developing small things, I could see the joy on her face. Just to make an object move in a programmatic way, like a ball moving from Point A to Point B. To understand that there is something going on behind making the ball move on the screen, and that it works when I press enter or whatever. That really caught her interest. And there was a point when she would go on YouTube to search for information about a piece of code, and about how things can be implemented. We hope that she creates more apps that can serve the community and help the people around her.  

I don’t know very much about coding. Are we talking about strings of HTML code or something different?

Siyona: I’m learning block coding. 

What’s that?

Siyona: It’s these blocks that will do something when you put them in the right way. 

Like a puzzle?

Siyona: Yeah! 

Richa: And things that involve “if, then.” If a user presses enter on the keyboard, move the ball to the right, if the user presses backspace, move it to the left. However you want your logic to flow, you insert those blocks of code at the right places.  

Are there other kids at your school who are interested in coding, who you can talk to about it?

Siyona: Not really. There was a kid in my third grade class who knew about it, but not in fourth grade. 

So the competition that you’re entering is called “18u18,” like “18 under 18.” So all the competitors are under 18, but you’re only 9! Do you think you’ll get to talk to older students about coding, or trade any tips? 

Siyona: Sometimes maybe I do feel that I will as I get more advanced, but right now, no. 

So what stage is Band Fun at? Are there bands forming on the app, and are they mostly Little Rock people, or all over the world?

Siyona: I just submitted it for the competition, so it’s not really live yet! [Laughs.] 

How did you test it? 

I opened it on a LOT of browsers, so it would be different, and my mentor who was helping me build it signed in, and where it was storing all the data, I could see that his name was in there. 

What happens at the competition? Do you have to show them the app?

Siyona: I submitted it using Google Forms, and after that, I just waited and in the summer, I heard that I was a finalist in it. I hope I win, but there are also other talented people out there.   

What are you reading right now? I’m trying to read the “Wings of Fire” series. I’m on the 14th book. And I want to read “The Trials of Apollo” next. 

What instruments do you play? piano, violin

How does the app work? Users log in, create a user profile that lists instruments they play, then join a chat room with others who have the same interests, plus share audio files with others. “They can sing into the microphone and hit send to share,” Siyona said. “It’s easy to use.”