Monday, December 5, 2016

Coding is Elementary

Coding Is Elementary 
Authored by Jenna Seymour & Jeff Bodmer-Turner

Essex Elementary and Memorial Elementary have participated in the Hour of Code since its inception in 2012. The HofC is a week-long event originally created by a professional computer science organization designed to stimulate interest in computer coding. The activities involve game-based modules that teach basic block programming and some text programming in JavaScript. The idea initially was to devote a single class period to these coding activities so that students would become interested in coding and ultimately pursue computer science as a field in college. The website presents all the statistics about job growth in the field and the lack of qualified American graduates emerging from our universities.

Each year we set aside time in the elementary classrooms, usually a math period to participate in the Hour of Code. Students enthusiastically joined in the activities. They expressed that it was really cool to get the Zombie to eat the sunflowers by guiding the Zombie through a maze using repeat commands and conditional statements (if a path to the left, take it, etc.). Craving more and more activities, some students continued to pursue coding challenges in the computer labs as extension lessons or free time activities.

Starting two years ago, and especially last year, the website began experiencing traffic problems. Millions, literally millions, of students were attempting simultaneously to log on to the most engaging activities and site delivery crawled to a stop. The organizers cut back on saving individual student progress and still students experienced website delays and crashes. Our students were frustrated with the activities they previously really enjoyed.
Before the Hour of Code was even started, MERSD elementary school Technology Integration Specialists saw the importance of including coding and programming in the technology curriculum. With the advent of HofC these specialists realized that a week of coding activities was insufficient to teach anything that would last. We don’t do an “Hour of Nonfiction Writing” or an “Hour of Biology” and expect students to pursue careers in Journalism or Pharmacology. In the past we had some coding in first and second grade built into the Lego Engineering program. We also had bits of coding in other areas and grade levels of the curriculum. Together the two elementary technology specialists, Jenna Seymour at MMES and Jeff Bodmer-Turner at EES, began to piece together a vertically integrated coding curriculum which starts in first grade and extends through fifth grade. These pieces are being taught utilizing a simplified engineering design cycle, tablet based software to write programs, and hardware that includes age appropriate, hands-on devices (e.g., Blue-Bot programmable floor robots, Pro-Bots, and Spheros). We also teach using Apps such as Daisy the Dinosaur, Codable, Scratch, Jr., et al. Our goal is to include coding curriculum in well-designed units of instruction which go beyond a single week of the Hour of Code.

As a result of these experiences and curriculum design decisions, we are building a more sustainable model for elementary students to learn to think about solutions to challenges utilizing coding concepts. More work needs to be done in the transition from block-based programs to language-based code. For now we are trying to reach as many students in the elementary schools as possible with activities based on the Massachusetts Instructional Technology Standards and the ISTE National Technology Standards for Students.
An Hour of Code is pretty cool. Five years of spiraling curriculum at the elementary school level is, we believe, a stronger approach.
Thank you for this opportunity to share with the School Committee our work with students in this particular area of technology.

Jeff Bodmer-Turner                              Jenna Seymour
Technology Integration                         Technology Integration
Essex Elementary                                 Manchester Memorial Elementary