It looks like a game, but that’s coding

It looks like a game, but that’s coding
Posted on 12/08/2017
 It looks like a game, but that’s codingFredonia CodingNettie CodingStudents poured into Deidre Chatman’s computer lab at Fredonia Elementary earlier this week, logged into the desktop computers lining the outside walls of the room and eagerly began playing games, right in the middle of the school day.

But it’s more than computer games because the software immersed the third-graders in the lab that day into a beginning course of computer coding. Commands that moved items around the screen are the first step in introducing young students to the world of coding, the details behind the details responsible for everything a computer does, or for that matter, the latest coffee makers not to mention the cars parked outside.

“Computer Science Education Week provides an opportunity to expose students to digital activities that engage our ‘digital-native’ students,” said Sharon Fenley, NISD’s Director of Digital Learning. “It is also an opportunity to highlight possible career paths that involve computer science.

“Students are excited about coding and participating in an activity that is fun and fosters computational thinking and problem-solving skills.  These specific skills, when done regularly, can be an enormous benefit to student performance across all academic subject areas.”

The Fredonia third-graders, along with other students across Nacogdoches Independent School District, flocked to computer labs the week of Dec. 4 as part of Hour of Code activities associated with Computer Science Week.

Some of the most recognizable names in American tech industry participated. Google had a special “doodle” on its search homepage, that when clicked, led users to an exercise that involved guiding a rabbit through an increasingly complicated maze.

Websites such as code.org linked classrooms to a wide variety of games, all meant to entertain students while engaging them in beginning coding.

“We’re all going to learn to code today,” Elizabeth Hutchison told a room full of fourth-graders Tuesday at Raguet Elementary. Hutchison is a lecturer in the computer science department at Stephen F. Austin State University, and she and Paul Crouch, a student at SFA, were in Melissa Price’s classroom.

“I’m glad they came over,” Price said from the back of her classroom. “The kids have really enjoyed this.”

Hutchison conducted students from the “Google doodle” to the website code.org where they saw some familiar faces promoting the week of coding… (and no one was more recognizable to students than Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry).

From code.org, Hutchison introduced the students to dozens of exercises, cleverly concealed as games.

“It’s like they’re playing games, but they’re really learning the basics of coding,” Price said.

It makes sense considering the world runs on coding. No matter the innovation behind computer tablets, laptops, HDTVs or any of the other latest cool gadgets available, someone writes code that makes the technology useful as well as the software that allows for user interface.

“I remember when a Star Trek communicator was absolute science fiction,” Hutchison said later. “My children were genuinely shocked to discover that I did not have a cell phone in middle school, or high school, or college because they did not exist. This past week I have been lucky enough to experience computer science through the eyes of five year olds through ten year olds and have confidence that they will create innovations that will amaze us all!”

Working through the software exposes students to more than just the coding itself, Hutchison added.

“Learning to program teaches students to think logically, develops critical thinking skills, and teaches them how to take difficult tasks and break them down into smaller, easier to solve tasks,” she said. “They gain experience in collaboration and learning how to communicate ideas. They are able to use these skills to persevere not just in computer science, but in reading, writing, math, and life. That and it’s just plain fun.”

In Alexis Haynes’ keyboarding class at McMichael Junior High, with digital learning specialist Tammy McDonald on hand, students began using Python coding, a widely used programming language, to move a turtle around the screen and accomplish a number of tasks.

Students at Carpenter Elementary already participate in a coding club with Linsey Taylor, the campus librarian who organized the group last year.

Taylor described a senior majoring in computer science from SFA who visited Carpenter and listed all the firms that are searching for employees capable of writing code for computers.

“He named off companies that I had no idea were looking for computer science people,” Taylor said, such as automakers and insurers.

Games used in Taylor’s club also emphasize others important skills for students. “There’s a lot of math to it, also,” Taylor said. One game prompts students to move a mouse around a diamond-shaped layout, an exercise that requires calculating angles, which “brings in geometry.”

Software used in Hilda Villanueva’s computer lab at Nettie Marshall Academy of Dual Language is already tailored to students’ needs. At the first of the school year, students were assessed to determine weak areas. The software then uses games and activities to help strengthen those areas, whether it be reading, math, etc., Villanueva said.

“Computer programming is not just writing lines of code,” Hutchison, the SFA professor, said. “Far from it. Learning to code is a creative process that drives innovation, builds confidence and is absolutely essential in a digital word. All kids won’t grow up to be programmers, but they will grow up to live in a digital world and will rely on computing skills. They may have careers in teaching, healthcare, construction, business, fashion, music, theatre or agriculture. But they will all use technology, they will all need to solve problems, they will all collaborate and communicate.”