Monday, December 14, 2015

May the Force (and Coding) be with You!

More than 20,000 students of all ages in Spring Branch ISD took part in Hour of Code and Computer Science Education Week activities held Dec. 7-11 across the district. Many education professionals today believe that learning how to code or program will be a basic skill needed for future success.

In a nod to the universal appeal surrounding Star Wars and the release of its next film, The Force Awakens, the district celebrated Coding Week with Imperial Stormtroopers in costume, R2-D2 and BB-8 robots, and a librarian in coil wig and flowing dress like Princess Leia.

Hour of Code annual events are supported by the nonprofit group, The group aims to demystify computer science and coding through one-hour projects and courses. Each SBISD campus had one or more grade-level specific activities planned last week.

On Dec. 9, Educational Technology Department’s Karen Justl dressed in a white Imperial Stormtrooper costume – minus Star Wars blaster – to connect the magic of dazzling adventure films set in the distant future with here-and-now computer skills so that SBISD students might begin learning how to code and program.

At 7:30 a.m., more than 60 students gathered inside the Northbrook High School library for Hour of Code exercises sponsored by National Honor Society students. Stormtrooper Justl was a big hit with early risers.

Next up, Edgewood Elementary School, where Justl entered the school library with a rolling R2-D2 robot emblazoned with the message “Please Follow Me to Learn.”

Joining her was Karen North with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Houston branch, which aims to build a volunteer “Coding Buddies” unit to help more girls and all students consider pursuing coding careers and education.

All Edgewood Elementary students took part in the Hour of Code activities, which ranged from very basic coding exercises on laptop devices (“Star Wars: Building a Galaxy With Code” through to floor-level logic and programming exercises using Bee-Bot, Dash and Dot, and Ozobot robots.

Bee-Bots are used to help young children learn about directional language, control and programming. Dash and Dot and Ozobots are powerful tiny robots that can be programmed, too.

“We were so excited to see students participate in our Computer Science Education Week through various coding activities – both ‘plugged and unplugged’ – from second- to 12th-graders all in one morning,” said Justl, SBISD’s interim director of educational technology.

“One of the highlights for me was being a part of the high energy in the library at Northbrook High School with more than 60 students participating in the Star Wars activity before school on their own time! I dressed up as a Stormtrooper to motivate and encourage students. It was great to visit with the students, many inquiring as to how they might continue their “coding” experience beyond the day and week,” Justl said.

She noted that the district is promoting and encouraging computer science – from so-called “makerspaces” in school libraries to after-school coding clubs, summer Code Camps and computer science courses in middle and high schools. Certified computer science teachers are difficult to find to help expand current offerings.

Texas currently has more than 16,000 unfilled computer science related positions, according to the Texas Alliance for Computer Science Education. By 2020, some 1 million computer science jobs will go unfilled in the United States, the Department of Labor Department of Labor reports.

Also troubling is the perception that coders and programmers are mostly white and male. Three-quarters of all girls in middle school say they are interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) course, but by high school that STEM interest plunges to less than 1 percent among girls.

“The mindset for computer programming with our children needs to be built up in kindergarten through eighth grade just like math leads to algebra,” says AAUW’s Karen North. “Many schools are not exposing young girls to programming. Hour of Code is trying to change all that.” This year’s Hour of Code designation won a City of Houston proclamation as a special designation day.

In just two years, Edgewood Elementary Librarian Teresa Dolan has created an entire campus of eager young programmers and coders. Last year, she took two weeks and moved all Edgewood students through Hour of Code activities.

“It was hard to do, but we did it, and I think that the kids really got hooked last year. It may look like toys and learning chaos, but the students are really using robots to problem solve,” she said. “They see results, and they’re excited, they want to learn more.”

“Parents are not sure about it until they see their students do it,” she adds. “We need to let kids try and fail in a safe way, too, and that is what happens during Hour of Code.”

Edgewood third-grader Josue Giron sure didn’t fail. He was the first student to complete 15 levels of programming code through He won an Hour of Code certificate.

“It’s really fun,” he said. “I like to think about mechanics, and I like to code.” If he doesn’t become a professional football player, his career dream, Josue might be an engineer or work with computers, he said.

At Spring Woods Middle School later that morning, Anthony Flaviani, a Semantec senior developer based in Houston, told students in technology instructor Kimberly Clayton’s room that stunning amounts of “bad virus” code are created daily – up to 1 million pieces a day, according to estimates.

Many more programmers are needed to combat computer viruses, he said. “We do need more coders. We all need to do whatever we can to let kids know about all of the benefits of coding – relative job security, higher salaries and other professional and personal benefits,” he said.

For today’s youth, learning computer skills and coding are essential tools, he adds.
“Technology is everywhere. You can learn to work with technology and use it, or be limited without it,” he said.

For more information, please visit the following links:

Hour of Code Events Held in Spring Branch ISD

Volunteer to be a CODE BUDDY!

Expanding Your Horizons in Science and Mathematics Conference for Middle School Girls (AAUW, West Harris County Branch)


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