Conducting code in classrooms

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Director of Awesome Inc Garrett Ebel helps senior Elisha Mutayongwa create variables and functions in JavaScript while visiting Tates Creek High School (Fayette County). Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 9, 2013
Director of Awesome Inc Garrett Ebel helps senior Elisha Mutayongwa create variables and functions in JavaScript while visiting Tates Creek High School (Fayette County).
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 9, 2013

Last week, when Nick Such asked students in the Tates Creek High School (Fayette County) auditorium to raise their hands is they’ve ever written a line of code, about five students put their hands up.

When he asked them again at the end of the hour, practically all of the 120 students in the room put a hand up.

Introducing students to coding is what the Hour of Code is all about. The week-long event, which ran Dec. 9-15, was an effort to get 5 million students to spend one hour learning to code.

“Learning to code had a huge trajectory on my life,” said Such, who is director of labs and co-founder for Awesome Inc U, a Lexington-based code school. Awesome Inc U offers hands-on classes that help people learn how to create software.

Such said he started coding in 3rd grade. Awesome Inc U’s other co-founder, Brian Raney, began coding in middle school. “It didn’t take me long to figure out it was a great way to make money,” Raney said.

Both Such and Raney honed their coding skills, started a variety of businesses along the way, and now they are working with schools, hoping to get students to see the value in coding and to increase the number of computer science majors in college.

“This just gives them a taste for what all is out there,” said Tates Creek High library media specialist Jennifer Prall, who also tried a little coding during the Hour of Code program. “There’s all this talk about how half of the jobs these kids will have later on don’t even exist yet, so we want them to dabble in as many things as they can.

“Coding is one of those,” Prall added. “We take for granted some of the behind-the-scenes careers out there, and this is one that’s in high demand. Students who know how to do this will be in great shape in the future.”

Such, Raney and their team presented students with some basic information about coding before letting them write a few lines of code. Most students used their smart phones while a few used iPads or personal computers.

Students using smart phones relied on Microsoft Touch Develop. Those with iPads or laptops used CodeAcademy. The Awesome Inc U team also introduced Processing for those with an interest in art, and Raney talked to students about the importance of internships and other web development courses.

Awesome Inc U had visits set up at many area schools for the Hour of Code last week, and has others scheduled for the coming weeks? For the primary students, Kodable, an iPad app created by a startup company from Louisville, was used, Such said. For grades 4-8, Scratch, a visual programming tool created at MIT, was used. The My Robot Friends activity from Thinkersmith, was another program used to show coding.

Southern Elementary School (Fayette County) was recently the only Kentucky school selected by code.org to receive a $10,000 award for its plans to commemorate the Hour of Code week, according to Lisa Deffendall, spokeswoman for Fayette County Schools. (One school in each state was chosen.)

The school will use the money to supplement its science, technology, engineering and mathematics program. It celebrated recently by letting students play a live version of the Angry Birds game.

Brittany Haehlen, STEM lab teacher at Southern Elementary, said her long-term goal for Hour of Code was to spark student interest in 21st-century skills and to tie it with other areas in her STEM curriculum.

“Computer science has a lot to do with applying math skills, and it really teaches you how to think,” Haehlen said.

Haehlen said she plans to teach robotics toward the end of the year to her K-5 students, and that coding will be part of the content. She believes her students are up to the task.

“Coding is actually easier than most people think,” she said. “There have been studies that show kids’ brains are more receptive to computer language at a young age, just like foreign language.”

With early primary students, Haehlen will teach coding by starting with very basic steps, she said.

“To code, you have to follow basic directions such as move forward 1, turn left, etc.,” Haehlen said. “I first start with talking about directional words and then I incorporate the technology so they can apply the directions.

“In China, every student takes computer science to graduate high school,” Haehlen added. “In the U.S., 90 percent of schools don’t even teach it. It’s time for us to catch up to the 21st century. We know that regardless of what our students do when they grow up, whether they go into medicine, business, politics or the arts, knowing how to build technology will allow give them the confidence and know-how to succeed.”

MORE INFO …


Awesome Inc U
Code.org
Tutorials for beginners
Brittany Haehlen, brittany.haehlen@fayette.kyschools.us, (859) 381-3589
Brian Raney, brian@awesomeinc.org (859) 421-1690
Nick Such, nick@awesomeinc.org (502) 802-5972

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