Whiz kid an expert in computer coding

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SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Computer programming is not for everyone, but for one 14-year-old South Berwick resident it’s as natural as riding a bike.


Stephen Kaplan, an eighth-grader in Marshwood Middle School’s Gifted and Talented Program, is skilled in many programming, or coding, languages. These include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.


Kaplan is so proficient at coding, in fact, that he was the keynote speaker last month at the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) Conference at the University of Maine in Orono. More than 1,000 middle- and high-school teachers and administrators attended the May 22 conference.


“He got up in front of a thousand people … I know that is not something I would want to do,” says Stephen’s father, Michael Kaplan.


“After the conference, Stephen spoke with a Maine Apple representative,” his mother, Lisa Kaplan, recalls. “It was a dream come true for my son and a huge accomplishment for him. I am so proud.”


So is Maureen Martin of South Berwick, Kaplan’s science teacher at Marshwood. Martin says, “I’ve had some very bright students, but never anyone quite as able as Stephen.” Martin has been Kaplan’s mentor and motivator, regularly encouraging him to challenge himself. In November, she invited him to an hourlong programming seminar during which Kaplan actually intercepted an error in a line of code and fixed it.
“It was an alternate way of doing the same thing,” says Kaplan, who lives at home with his parents and sisters, Ariel, 22, and Toni, 20.


The seminar sparked an interest in programming for several Marshwood students who, with Kaplan leading the way, started a club called Coding After School.


As of June 1, Kaplan had written 10 computer how-to lessons for the club titled “The Programming Language: Lua.” Each lesson ranges from 8-14 pages long.


There is an audible note of pride in her voice as Martin says, “The work is extensive and phenomenal. These coding lessons have gone on for weeks without fail.”


Kaplan’s Lua lessons are available from Apple’s iBooks and are currently being reviewed in more than 51 different countries … even including Afghanistan.


Lisa Kaplan says, “I went to Stephen’s first workshop not knowing anything about coding, and he actually taught me so that I understood it. I was intrigued by him interacting with kids his own age and older, as well as his ability to teach these students.”


Kaplan says he has always been interested in computers but his fascination with coding wasn’t ignited until he watched his older sister, Toni, programming when he was in the third grade.


“These days, I’m always coding,” Kaplan says. “When I’m not coding the Lua lessons, I’m coding something else.”


Somewhat surprisingly, though, Kaplan isn’t sure he wants a career in programming, although he knows he wants to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT.)


“I want to do multiple things, but I need to choose one,” Kaplan says. “I would like to go to space one day because that is so cool, but working with rockets or being a particle physicist would be fun, too.


“I would like to go to MIT, and then at some point travel to Great Britain and study in London,” says Kaplan, who for the past few years has taken special summer classes at MIT studying astronomy, rocket design and physics.


Despite what seems like an all-consuming interest in computer programming and the sciences, Kaplan finds time for other activities. When he’s not at his computer keyboard, he can often be found playing soccer or practicing the clarinet.


And this school year, Kaplan asked the school’s permission to borrow and repair the Marshwood science department’s broken telescope.


“This telescope wasn’t in the greatest condition,” says Martin. “But within a couple of days, he came back with photographs of space.


“He just has such an incredible curiosity.”


Stephen’s father says, “We are all extremely proud of him. Hopefully, what he is doing will lead to something good.”


Whatever the future holds for him, it is clear that South Berwick’s young computer whiz is programmed for success.

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