TALKING IN CODE

In a matter of 20 minutes, two Brownstown students each had created a game on a computer, put it on their cellphones to play and shared it with friends.

The fact that they had never done anything like it before and got through it that quickly was a pleasant surprise.

“Learning to do it was more the fun part, and then seeing what you did come out of it,” junior Jaelyn Perry said.

“I thought it would be a lot harder than it was,” senior Clay Brown said. “The tutorial on the site made it a lot easier. It’s pretty neat.”

Brownstown Central High School and Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour were the only schools in the county participating in the second Hour of Code, which ran last week in celebration of Computer Science Education Week.

The event is organized by Code.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools. It is designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics, according to hourof

code.com.

This year, tens of millions

of students in more than

180 countries were involved.

Sought-after skill

At Brownstown, Robin Perry had her Web design classes participate last year, but she had all of her classes — personal financial responsibility, accounting, marketing, and preparing for college and careers — involved this year.

“I just threw that in as an extra unit because what I was hearing from the Indiana Department of Education was that (coding) is a needed skill, so I added that to my Web design class,” Perry said. “We spent a week on it, and the students seemed to like it. So when I saw the Hour of Code this year, I decided I wanted to try and just take a break from all of my regular classes and spend a day doing this.”

This time, students were able to go through a short tutorial before creating a game, including a winter wonderland with Anna and Elsa from the movie “Frozen” and Flappy Birds.

Since none of the students had coded before, Perry wasn’t sure how long it would take them to create a game.

She said the students’ comfort working with computers helped them learn coding more quickly.

“I thought that, since everybody would be working on different tutorials based on what they would want, I might have to be going around the room a lot answering questions, but I didn’t really have to,” she said. “They completed one relatively quickly, and I said, ‘Go to another one.’ Some of them got three done, and some stuck with one and advanced.”

Little coders

At Brown Elementary,

20 fourth-graders participated one day and 25 fifth-

graders tried it out the next day. Some of the fifth-graders participated last year, but it was new to most of the kids this year.

“Their little brains, they fear nothing, and they absorb it in so fast you could just see them sponging it in as they were going,” Brown Elementary teacher Jennifer Regruth said.

“There was nobody going, ‘I can’t believe I have to go to another level’ or ‘I can’t believe I have to do this for an hour.’ They were all in. There will be people that will never log in again after that, but what if five of them did? It’s five kids that didn’t before.”

Some fourth-graders picked up it so quickly they were able to help some fifth-graders new to coding.

“The interaction and the collaboration, I think those are lifelong skills they are going to need no matter what job they have,”

Regruth said.

She said she liked how engaged the students were.

“I got them logged in, and I helped a couple kids; but mostly, they helped each other and they had it going on,” she said. “Just to watch that and listen, I didn’t have to tell anybody to be quiet or don’t bother people. There was none of that, and that just makes me happy.”

Learning exercise

In creating the games, students used math and science skills to make the characters move.

Regruth said that, once

the kids get into it, they

get hooked.

“Everybody has a gift, so these kids wouldn’t know if their gift was programming if they never had seen it,” she said. “A lot of the kids we have don’t have the opportunity for that. About five of them just said to me, ‘Is this it? Is this our only time we’re going to do Hour of Code?’”

The good thing is that kids can log on to the code.org website any time and continue with coding.

Regruth said sometime down the road she would like to create a coding club.

“I just don’t see a downside to it,” she said. “They are all going to be on computers somehow, so why not make it a positive force to help with something? It’s just to plant a little seed that technology, you can control it, too, and if you love programming, you could have a job and make a lot of money having a ball just trying to figure all of that out.”

Expanding interest

Perry also likes how Hour of Code sparks students’ interest in coding.

While working on their games, she told her students they were creating technology instead of just using it.

“It gives them ownership,” she said. “It gives them a little bit of a creative outlet that they can make a fun game that they can put their name on and be proud of.”

Perry could tell one student in particular was proud of himself for doing something he didn’t know he could do.

“It will help their self-

esteem that they can do computer programming,” she said. “It’s not as hard and not as scary as what they thought, and anybody can truly learn how to do this, so it gives them an additional skill that they didn’t have before and the confidence to dig a little deeper in it.”

Perry said she had attended robotics camp at Aisin in Seymour and learned how to program a robot. But she found coding to be easier.

“You get a lot of thought processing, like you think it out and have to figure out how the codes work so you can make your game work,” she said. “It’s a lot easier than robots surprisingly because, robots, you actually have to type in the code and the robot has to understand the code.”

Brown said Hour of Code helped improve his computer skills.

“It can help anybody with anything they do with computers because everybody uses a computer for everything nowadays, so I think it just makes everybody more well-rounded using a computer,” he said.

Brown Elementary students Stevie Sedam and Kenton Johnson also liked coding.

Stevie did it last year for the first time as a fourth-grader, and she said she learned more about it this year.

“It’s pretty easy to do programming,” she said. “It opens your mind to something else that you can do.”

Kenton didn’t have much trouble learning how to code, either. He liked how you can do advanced levels of coding.

“I learned how to do it; so when you keep going on, it gets kind of harder,” he said. “I like finishing the puzzles and seeing all the pieces that I used. It was awesome.”

At one point, Jaelyn Perry said she thought about entering the robotics field to program robots. But now that she has the skill of coding, that’s another career possibility.

According to code.org, computer science is a top-

paying college degree, and computer programming jobs are growing at two times the national average.

“It was really fun,” Perry said. “I didn’t know you could do this, and I didn’t know anyone could do it.”

Brown said it has opened his eyes, too.

“There’s a high demand for computer programmers, so this could be an avenue people could go down,” he said. “This could sway people’s decision on what they want to do if they like it.”

Pull Quote

“I learned how to do it; so when you keep going on, it gets kind of harder. I like finishing the puzzles and seeing all the pieces that I used. It was awesome.”

Fourth-grader Kenton Johnson on participating in Hour of Code

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.