2014-12-19 / Community News

Students tap ‘Hour of Code’ keyboards

The global event was part of National Computer Science Education Week
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


Tom Hanson, a seventh-grade student at Scarborough Middle School, focuses on Code Avengers, a video gamed designed to teach computer science and coding vocabulary. Hanson got interested in coding last year after talking to his cousin, a video game developer. 
(Michael Kelley photo) Tom Hanson, a seventh-grade student at Scarborough Middle School, focuses on Code Avengers, a video gamed designed to teach computer science and coding vocabulary. Hanson got interested in coding last year after talking to his cousin, a video game developer. (Michael Kelley photo) Students across the district spent hours last week playing video games at school. The experience, however, was not all fun and games, but rather part of Hour of Code, an international effort to introduce students, young and old, to computer programming.

“Hour of Code is a global event to teach kids — or to teach anybody, adults too — about computer programming, open up that world, get people interested and to understand that anyone can do it, at least at the basic level,” said JoEllen Clive who, after 22 years in the classroom at Wentworth, took the newly created position of technology integrator for grades three through five.


Members of Rob Green’s eighth-grade science class spent time last week taking part in Hour of Code, an international initiative by code.org to introduce students to coding and make computer science instruction more available. Computer science is not offered as part of the Scarborough School Department curriculum. (Michael Kelley photo) Members of Rob Green’s eighth-grade science class spent time last week taking part in Hour of Code, an international initiative by code.org to introduce students to coding and make computer science instruction more available. Computer science is not offered as part of the Scarborough School Department curriculum. (Michael Kelley photo) This year’s Hour of Code involves tens of millions of students in 180 countries around the world. Clive said Scarborough chose last week because it was National Computer Science Education Week. There were 275 schools across Maine — from Kittery to Caribou — that participated in the event, including Scarborough’s six schools.

Clive said most high schools, Scarborough High School included, don’t offer computer science classes, meaning students don’t usually get access to computer science until college.

“Typically we aren’t doing a good job preparing kids for computer science,” she said.

With computer science courses lacking in Scarborough schools, those who are interested in coding, such as seventhgrade student Tom Hanson, have to take it upon themselves to find opportunities.

Hanson became interested in coding a few years ago after talking to his cousin, who has worked on creating several video games, including the original Call of Duty.

“It’s all made possible by coding,” Hanson said as he used Code Avengers, which teaches the basics of Javascript and html.

Hour of Code, an initiative of code.org, a nonprofit aimed at making computer science instruction more available for students. Students at Wentworth didn’t use binary or text and codes like computer scientists do. Clive said their coding was much more game-based, in which students had to input a series of codes to make a character do something.

Clive said that approach teaches students “written sets of instruction is what makes that character do something or move in a different direction.”

Students spent an hour in the morning Dec. 10 coding in their classrooms. Later in the day they met with computer science professionals who shared information about their jobs.

Students at Scarborough Middle School spent time three days last week coding during their science classes. Seventh-grader Nick Hutchins and eighth-grader Brian Farino liked the game-based approach.

“I thought it was going to be more coding, but you actually get to make your character do stuff and see your character move,” Hutchins said as he played Code Combat, a strategy game using JavaScript.

“It’s a little bit more game-based, but you still get to do some coding. It’s good to learn that,” Farino said as he used coding to make his space racer trace geometric shapes. Farino said he had done some coding in his STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) class and is interested in learning more.

Middle School Technology Integrator Holly Graffam said the individual-based approach to Hour of Code works better than if students learned about coding in a group.

“By allowing students to choose their own level as well as what format they want to use, they become more engaged. There is something for everybody, so they can get something out of Hour of Code,” she said.

Brian Green, an eighth-grade science teacher at Scarborough Middle School, said the students are learning much more than just code during Hour of Code.

“They are learning problem-solving, pattern recognition and learning what goes into all the stuff they use everyday,” said Green. “The apps they use on their phones, all the programs they use, are powered by coding. All the stuff they take for granted, they are seeing operate by codes.”

Courtney Graffius, a technology integrator for the three primary schools, said she hopes Hour of Code creates some interest in computer programming at the high school, where students last week were able to take part in Hour of Code tutorials either as individuals during a study hall or if their class rented out one of the school’s computer labs.

“We don’t offer computer programming at the high school, but we are curious about what the interest is,” Graffius said.

“If there is enough interest from students and they say they would like to take computer science classes, there’s a chance this is a reality at the high school,” Graffam said, adding it would help prepare students for the 21st century and the computer science industry, one of the fastest growing job markets.

Graffius said students are not the only group that can benefit from this exposure to computer programming and coding.

“We are hopeful Hour of Code will not only expose the students, but the staff as well to computer programming,” she said. “A lot of teachers we have did not use this technology when they were in school, so they need to be exposed to the technology just like the kids.”

She said as teachers and staff become more exposed to coding, they will find more and more ways to introduce it in their classrooms.

“It is a matter of the teachers seeing how it fits into some the curriculum we already do,” Graffius said.

With the opening of the new Wentworth School, technology has played a bigger part of classroom instruction for grades three through five. Each student now has his or her own laptop. In the previous school students had to share three computer labs. Clive said so far this year, using their laptops, students have published their written stories, explored geography on Google Earth, created digital portfolios of their classroom work, among other things. Teachers have used interactive whiteboards to aid in their classroom presentation and lesson plans.

“It makes things very visual for them,” Clive said.

Graffam said technology “reaches every aspect in life in some way” and is becoming a bigger part of classroom instruction at all grade levels, especially the middle school, which has had laptops in the classroom for the last 13 years.

“My hope is staff becomes better connected to technology, or at least understand the importance of it,” Graffam said.

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