Portsmouth students learn ‘An Hour of Code’

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue helps kindergarten student Rafferty Dionne with a programming problem inside the school's computer lab. Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue helps kindergarten student Rafferty Dionne with a programming problem inside the school's computer lab.

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue helps kindergarten student Rafferty Dionne with a programming problem inside the school's computer lab last week.

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue helps kindergarten student Rafferty Dionne with a programming problem inside the school’s computer lab.

PORTSMOUTH — A little puppy was lost yesterday, but kindergarten students at Melville Elementary School helped the dog find its way back home.

In doing so, the young pupils had a little help themselves: their computers.

Along with students in all grades throughout the school district, they were participating in the “House of Code” event during Computer Science Education Week Dec. 9-15. The event was organized by Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting computer science education with the goal of having every K-12 student in America participate to help introduce computer programming to students of all ages.

Melville Elementary School kindergarten student Kai Chilabato navigates the Portsmouth School Department website using an interactive white board.

Melville Elementary School kindergarten student Kai Chilabato navigates the Portsmouth School Department website using an interactive white board.

“Statistics show that only 10 percent of schools in the U.S. offer computer programming classes,” said Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jeff Schoonover. “As for employment opportunities, computer programming jobs are growing at twice the national average, are among the highest entry-level salaries, and are estimated to have approximately 1 million unfilled positions.”

Mr. Schoonover said computer programming teaches students skills that can be applied in many different areas.

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue watches kindergarten student Elizabeth Farwick as she organizes a set of computer programming commands on an interactive white board.

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue watches kindergarten student Elizabeth Farwick as she organizes a set of computer programming commands on an interactive white board.

“Computer science and coding teaches students skills such as design, problem solving, and logical reasoning that are critical to success in a variety of fields and other subjects,” he said.

Students were introduced to programming concepts such as sequencing, using loops and repetition and conditional logic. Students in grades 2 to 3 learned the same programming concepts by individually writing code to complete an “Angry Birds” puzzle or to create their own holiday cards using the Scratch program from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Students at the middle and high schools were taught the same concepts at more advanced levels to create computer games, complete various activities or create digital hardware.

At Melville on Thursday, library media specialist Ruth Donahue began a presentation to kindergarten students by acting like a computerized robot and asking the kids to give her simple instructions — one at a time.

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue helps kindergarten student Emma Nadal figure out a computer code that makes a dog move on an interactive white board.

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue helps kindergarten student Emma Nadal figure out a computer code that makes a dog move on an interactive white board.

“When you’re a computer, you can understand only step-by-step directions,” said Ms. Donahue, who has a background in computer science.

She said the “Hour of Code” is different than an educational computer game in that it actually teaches students how a computer program is written.

“It’s a little more math-based and sequential — how a computer actually runs,” said Ms. Donahue.

On in interactive white board, students took turns on a coding program that helped an animated dog get to his food. They had to click and drag simple commands — “run,” “jump,” etc. — and place them in the correct order.

“Computers are so picky. You have to tell them to do exactly what you want,” said Ms. Donahue.

Kindergarten student Lyla Morrow works on a coding exercise inside Melville Elementary School's computer lab.

Kindergarten student Lyla Morrow works on a coding exercise inside Melville Elementary School’s computer lab.

Using a slightly more advanced programming method, Emma Nadal chose a “run” command and repeated it nine times to move the puppy more efficiently.

“You’re really smart,” said Ms. Donahue. “You’re going to be a computer programmer someday.”

After the exercise, students headed down to the school’s computer lab, where they each tried similar tasks on a personal computer.

‘Opens up new world for them’

Melville Principal Elizabeth Viveiros said she was so impressed with the “Hour of Code” program that the school decided to continue it next week.

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue helps kindergarten student Rafferty Dionne with a programming problem inside the school's computer lab.

Melville Elementary School librarian Ruth Donahue helps kindergarten student Rafferty Dionne with a programming problem inside the school’s computer lab.

“We’ve taken a lot of initiatives this year to ensure that there’s technology in the hands of all of our students,” she said. ”There are so many multiple intelligences and it’s amazing what this particular coding activity is doing, especially with some students who are struggling a little bit more. It opens up a new world for them.”

The campaign aims to demystify computer science for students by taking them through introductory tutorials that can be completed online, on a smartphone, or even without a computer or other connected device.

“We know that computer science is what makes the iPods we love work and is a leading source of high-paying jobs. Learning to code arms students with a skill very few in this country have,” said School Superintendent Barbara McGann.

For more about the Hour of Code and Computer Science Education Week, visit http://csedweek.org.

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