Dozens of students at Robert Frost Elementary School participated in a worldwide computer science event last week that aimed to teach young minds the basics of computer programming and demystify code.
Two Frost teachers brought computer science into their first- and fourth-grade classrooms by participating in the Hour of Code, a grassroots campaign that gives educators the tools to introduce elementary students to basic computer programming.
“I think it’s really important that kids start at a very early age learning to love technology,” said first-grade teacher Kimberly Beckwith. “More and more, I’ve seen the kids getting into these really cool programs (and) it’s something that I really wanted to try.”
Code is the instructional language that computer programmers use to tell a computer how to operate. Computers can do numerous different things and have become an integral part of the world, but every desktop, tablet, laptop and phone all need millions of step-by-step instructions written out by programmers.
Beckwith used code.org to introduce her students to coding. The website provides very basic lessons and activities that demonstrate how computers work and how computer programmers write their instructions.
“It’s how you command the stuff to go up, left, right or down,” said first-grader Andrew Austin. “If you direct it right, it could become a game. If you get all of the puzzles right you can become a big coder and make your own games.”
The first-grade class used a Star Wars-themed program that provides blocks of code that students used to create a simple game. Instead of writing out the code in a programming language, the students dragged and dropped the building block to define their game’s rules and tell the program what to do when players press certain buttons.
Andrew programmed a C-3PO droid to move on screen when he pressed the arrow keys. His game required the player to collect a certain number of points to win, but if the player ran into a stormtrooper, they lost.
“What I don’t like about coding, when I make the game, it had a glitch,” he said.
Andrew is still working some of the glitches in his game and said when he grows up, he wants to make real video games before becoming an astronaut.
According to Beckwith, Andrew went home and started working on code.org/starwars before the school even sent out the permission slip. Andrew said his parents let him work on his coding whenever he wants.
“If you think about it they’re going to have jobs that haven’t even been created yet,” Beckwith said. “More and more people are getting into computers, technology and engineering.”
The first-grade students have been very excited about coding and the activities keep them engaged and focused, she said.
Beckwith is particularly happy with how the program targets her female students.
“I want to see more and more girls out there doing the same kind of stuff,” she said. “I want to give them an equal chance and give them a solid foundation.”
Beckwith plans to continue using the programming courses with her current students and eventually integrate 10 lessons into her curriculum every year.
“If we start now, hopefully they learn to be intuitive with it” she said. “I know people that are my age and older who hate (technology) and that’s hard when you have to use it every day. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”