A life-size maze, building-block puzzles, even Frozen’s Elsa help BTW students learn coding

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Teachers, staff and students at Booker T. Washington pulled together to fashion a 'Frozen'-themed maze and props for this year's Hour of Code event. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Teachers, staff and students at Booker T. Washington pulled together to fashion a ‘Frozen’-themed maze and props for this year’s Hour of Code activities. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)


 

Dec. 8-14: Computer Science Education Week
 

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward
 

Amid a life-size maze and building-block puzzles, youngsters at Booker T. Washington Intermediate Academy in Lexington displayed clear-headed concentration during the daylong “Hour of Code” activities. “It makes your mind stronger, and it helps you with math. It’s fun, too, and helps you learn new stuff,” fourth-grader Shella Ngono explained during a break.
 

The annual Hour of Code, which is organized by the nonprofit code.org, nurtures problem-solving skills, logic and creativity as it aims to expand participation in computer science. More than 400 Kentucky schools, businesses and organizations signed up this year. For example, a 10-week coding club at Lexington Traditional Magnet School will culminate Thursday with students presenting games they designed during after-school sessions.
 

Working in pairs to navigate the snowflake maze, one student called out directions as the other carried out the instructions, such as go forward, go forward and turn left. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Working in pairs to navigate the snowflake maze, one student called out directions as the other carried out the instructions, such as go forward, go forward and turn left. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

The self-guided Hour of Code activities are suitable for all ages and experience levels; some work on PCs, cellphones and tablets, and others are “unplugged” – requiring no computer. “Coding is programming something to move,” as BTW fourth-grader Ramon Martinez described it, using a tangible example: “If you make a robot, you can program it.”
 

The children acted like robots in the event’s main exercise, which led them through a giant snowflake assembled in the gym. Since this year’s theme was “Frozen,” teacher Katie Frances dressed in costume as the character Elsa to demonstrate the maze during the opening assembly for grades 3-5.
 

Then, working in pairs, one student called out directions as the other carried out the instructions, such as go forward, go forward and turn left.
 

“You’re coding to move them from one place to another where you want them to move. You really need to focus,” said fifth-grader Lorena Castellanos.
 

The goal was to navigate through all the spokes and pick up six snowflake cards.
 

“This is not an obstacle course to run through, but an opportunity to use your problem-solving skills to code your way through,” added STEM lab teacher Valerie Zinser.
 

Zinser, who coordinated the events, said students were already familiar with stretching their brains to reach solutions. “We make it, try it, fix it and then try it again. You keep going through that loop in order to solve the problem, so they’re using the engineering process,” she said. “The younger they are, the easier they grasp the ideas because it is a different way of thinking. They’re willing to try things and not give up, so when you pair that with a website like code.org, they will try and try and try until they get the end result they’re looking for. And the best part is there are multiple ways to get there.”
 

Students followed coding instructions to stack a dozen cardboard boxes in hopes of putting the painted scenes from 'Frozen' back together correctly. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Students followed coding instructions to stack a dozen cardboard boxes in hopes of putting the painted scenes from ‘Frozen’ back together correctly. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

In each corner of the gym, groups of students followed coding instructions to stack a dozen cardboard boxes in hopes of putting the painted scenes from “Frozen” back together correctly. At tables on either side of the snowflake maze, children manipulated blue plastic cups into a pyramid or other configuration to match a given image. Meanwhile down the hall in the lab, students practiced coding exercises on computers, and community volunteers stood by to help as needed.
 

“Coding is like learning a language, only you don’t need other people to talk to – you talk to the computer,” said Lamar Wilson, a self-taught coder and father of a fourth-grader at BTW. “It’s probably the best creative outlet in today’s technical world. If you can dream it up, you can figure out how to make it work.”
 

Did you know? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts one in every two science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs in the country will be in computing occupations, with more than 150,000 job openings annually, making it one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States. The industries requiring computing professionals are diverse: Two-thirds of computing jobs are in sectors other than information technology, including manufacturing, defense, health care, finance and government.
 

Tammy L. Lane is communications specialist and website editor for Fayette County Public Schools.

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