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District schools prepare students for a future filled with technology

Navo Middle School reading teacher Tina Simpson watches as sixth-grader Jasmine Gilford begins a programming tutorial
 
As technology rapidly progresses, so too do the types of jobs available. To help prepare students for such trends, Denton ISD schools recently participated in “Hour of Code,” a global initiative designed to teach children basic technology programming.

Coding or programming, the process of creating the underlying framework behind software such as smartphone and computer applications, is rapidly becoming one of the most in-demand career skills in the world. While programming training is often targeted at college students, Hour of Code provides tutorials aimed at children of all ages. Even some of Denton ISD’s youngest students have now participated in coding activities thanks to the initiative.

At McNair Elementary, all students – even kindergarteners – received training during the school’s week-long participation in Hour of Code. Each class visited the computer lab at least twice during the week and tried different coding tutorials, with some integrated with popular child-friendly franchises such as Angry Birds, Frozen, Minecraft and Star Wars.

In one tutorial, fifth-grade students began their coding experience by learning how to move a character forward with a simple command. The students later moved different commands on the screen in the order they wanted them to occur, then they pushed a button to run the completed set of commands to see if their plans worked.

Advanced students could even toggle the tutorial’s options to show the actual code behind each command and edit them that way – with text instead of dragging and dropping preset commands.

“I’m a really big fan of Star Wars, so it’s really cool how I can play this and also see how it’s working at the same time,” said McNair fifth-grader Clara Beeks. “Seeing how they actually do the programming is really neat. I could definitely see myself doing something like this when I grow up.”
 

 
“I’m a really big fan of Star Wars, so it’s really cool how I can play this and also see how it’s working at the same time. I could definitely see myself doing something like this when I grow up.”
 
CLARA BEEKS, McNAIR ELEMENTARY FIFTH-GRADER
 

 
For younger students, McNair teachers used tutorials that focus on the same types of lessons with simpler visual cues. Most text is replaced by symbols, and the general lessons are laid out more akin to puzzle games than homework questions to explain how coding works.

Dr. Debbie Cano, principal of McNair, said Hour of Code provides students with an entry point into advanced subjects because of how it integrates education with their favorite games, movies and subjects.

“I want our students to see what’s actually happening when they play a game, use an app or browse the Internet – basically for them to see behind the mystery of how computers work,” she said. “For a student to see how regular things they enjoy work is big. Our educational environment has to adapt and be responsive to our students and culture. It helps our students’ mastery of learning when they’re doing something they enjoy.”

Dr. Cano relied on school librarian Noelle Hill to organize McNair’s Hour of Code events, which included submitting a schedule to the organization that runs the initiative to explain how the school’s time would be used.

“I think this is a good preparation for our students, because their future is going to be filled with technology,” Ms. Hill said. “A great aspect of [these tutorials] is that it’s like a game to them, but it still exposes them to higher-level thinking – it’s just a good introduction to technology in an easy-to-understand package.”

While elementary students focused on basic ideas and principles of coding, secondary students integrated tutorials with specific classes. In a math class, for instance, Navo Middle School students learned how to code a character to move at different angles.
 
McNair Elementary students take part in the school’s Hour of Code training sessions on Thursday, Dec. 10

The most recent 10-year employment projections from the U.S. government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the amount of computer occupations to grow 17.7 percent from 2012 to 2022, providing current children with a vast amount of technology-focused careers. Some technology careers are anticipated to significantly outpace the overall computer occupations segment, such as an expected 22.8 percent growth in software application developer jobs.

Though she didn’t enter a career focused on technology, Navo math teacher Lisa Smith said her early experiences with computers still help with her job. Mrs. Smith’s father was a mainframe programmer, and her family had a Commodore 64 she would use to draw shapes with programming and math.

Mrs. Smith said exposing students to coding at a young age may not mean they’ll enter into technology careers growing up, but it gives them a better perspective on everyday tasks. It may even help in job requirements for careers that aren’t intensely focused on computers, she added.

“I love seeing how engaged the kids are – it’s teaching them how to give commands in a way they can understand, and they can even see the actual [programming] language if they want,” Mrs. Smith said. “This puts things at the right level so they can understand it. I think the biggest impact this will have is the connection to the real world and where we’re headed. They need to see the logic behind things we do, such as how an Excel command works.”

Jazlon McGee, an eighth-grader in Mrs. Smith’s Algebra class, agreed with her teacher’s assessment and said the coding tutorials made difficult concepts easier to grasp.

“Coding never seemed easy, but this makes it more understandable to where I can see what each command does,” she said. “It’s still not easy, but now I actually know what certain commands mean and understand how they work.”
 
TRY IT YOURSELF
Want to learn about coding yourself? Visit www.code.org/learn to view a variety of lessons for people of all ages.