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District Expands Student Computer Knowledge
Reporters Notebook
OJHS code 2
An Oakdale Junior High example of a more complex Coding through Code Studio.

There is a benefit to holding the title of ‘Education Reporter,’ most especially if you happen to have two students enrolled in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District.

Last week, both of my elementary students climbed into our car rattling on about ‘coding.’ This coupled by mention of video games and creating character movement, all left me a bit confused.

The day following their car enthusiasm, I received word from OJUSD Assistant Superintendent Kristi Rapinchuk regarding the district’s participation in the Hour of Code.

“During the Hour of Code, schools or school districts provide activities to students that expose them to writing computer code,” her e-mail stated. “The Hour of Code has become a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries.”

In truth, I first became aware of ‘coding’ several years ago via a childhood friend employed in Silicon Valley. The idea or notion that my third grader would soon be learning to ‘code’ however just did not seem possible, yet here we were.

The world of computer science was just getting started when I was a kid. So, admittedly this was all a bit foreign and somewhat daunting to me. I also enjoy playing devil’s advocate when I enter conversations on these topics with my children. Placing my mindset in line with their grandparents and older generations.

“Why do you need to learn to code?” I questioned my duo. “Are you interested in being programmers?”

My son spoke first, “No mommy. Computers are a major part of our everyday life. This is our future. The more we know the better we are prepared for the future.”

Now granted he could and probably was paraphrasing from a video he was shown at school, but the excitement shared by not one but both of my students raised my interest. Just what was this ‘code’ all about?

My first course of action was to attend one of the half hour coding classes. I was offered the schedule for several school sites with grade ranges from second to sixth grade. Knowing my own ability, I chose third grade as my attendance option. Sixth grade just might be too advanced for this 40-something.

First there is what I saw, a computer lab full of pint sized people all intently focused on their varying levels of coding. Hands flying up for help, fists in the air from victory and smiles, lots and lots of smiles. They were learning to code and it was fun.

I watched students navigate through the tutorial program and get it wrong. I watched as they problem solved and rethought their steps and I watched as their teacher would encourage them to rethink what they may have missed.

The coding set before the third graders was in simplistic form, navigating a minecraft or angry bird character. They were responsible for coding the commands to take the piece forward, left, right, turn or back. My mind likened it to the ‘how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich’ lesson I received in speech class. Some of you might recall this lesson, first get a loaf of bread, remove two pieces, open jar of peanut butter, etc.

This is now coding. If the piece turns right without first going forward it might hit a wall or fall through a hole. Every command matters, detail and specificity matters.

“Computer science is so important and computer programming is such a part of our future,” Magnolia Computer Lab Instructor Patty Traini shared. “They want to get these kids involved at an early age.”

Traini shared she had first learned of Hour of Code last year, but chose to learn a bit more before introducing it to the students.

Hour of Code was observed worldwide Dec. 7 to 11. Traini chose to use the week prior to share video and explanation with her classes so that they could hit the ground running – or coding – during the global observation.

“They were so excited when they came here this week,” she said.

So what exactly is coding?

Simply defined it is what makes software, apps and websites possible. It is the ‘back side’ or behind the scenes of what we see on our screen. Coding tells the computer what to do.

In short, code is one of the world’s most widely used languages. Almost every field relies more and more on software and software development success. Coding in most instances builds the child’s confidence and creativity. They can build their own path, which is ultimately empowering for the student.

Technology and computer science is now prevalent in every area of their lives. This is no longer about video games and smart phones. It’s about preparing them to be competitive in a fast and involving world run by these means.

To summarize, I believe states it best, “Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. It helps nurture problem-solving skill, logic and creativity. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st-century career path.”

So just as we once learned how to guide a person to make a simple sandwich, our children are now learning how to tell the computer to navigate what’s next. That is the key to the Code.