The lively chatter among the 50 or so Dutton Elementary students suggests they’re happy that another school day has ended. Far from it. Instead, they willingly staying after school to delve into the skills needed to write code for computer programs.
Indeed, these young people love the challenge the school’s Code Club offers.
An equal number of boys and girls are drawn to the Code Club, where together they bat around terms like “real life algorithms” and “flappy code” in a second-nature kind of way. The students huddle in groups of two or three, eagerly looking over one another’s shoulders to see the latest project they’re working on with their laptops to help solve a problem.
Third-grade teacher and Code Club advisor Terrie Morrow said students are introduced to the code site and the free lessons provided on the site, then are challenged to use their knowledge and collaboration skills to work through each of the lessons.
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Brody Levandoski gazed at a computer screen, which showed him a flawed geometric puzzle program and a list of possible commands to fix it. It looked complicated, but Brody didn’t seem intimidated. “I’ve always liked technology,” said the Belmont Elementary fifth-grader. “It’s fun.” Thinking the problem through aloud, he said, “Hmm, I feel like turning left by 18 degrees would be too much, so …” and clicked on a command. “Well, THAT was wrong,” he confessed.
Let’s Go Exploring
The students are specific about their reasons for joining the Code Club.
Third-grader Sadie Grimes said the Code Club gives her a chance to do some virtual exploring.
“It’s really interesting because we get to create a video game by creating it with code,” Sadie said. “It’s really fun.”
Fifth-grader Kasey Edson already has her sights on a career in the field.
“I’m thinking of becoming a coder,” Kasey said. “I just really want to do it.”
Third-grader Andrew Cherpes finds the challenges offered by the Code Club intellectually invigorating.
“I like figuring out what the computer is saying,” Andrew said. “If I get to a certain area, I have to use code to figure out new stuff.”
Then with obvious pride, Andrew adds: “I changed a floppy bird to a fairy. When I got through certain obstacles, I got a million points.”
Fifth-grader Stacy Delgado said creating and playing games on her laptop helps her learn something new.
“An hour of writing code gets really interesting because you can create a video game with it,” Stacy said.
Dutton Elementary’s Code Club is an extension of a nonprofit initiative launched in 2013 called Code.org. Its purpose is to expand participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and to increase participation among females and students of color.
Joy of Writing Code from STEM to Stern
“I believe one of the reasons there is such a high interest in the Code Club is because of total student engagement in an activity, where they are the experts and the teacher-leader is the one watching.,” Morrow said.
Those behind code.org think computer science and computer programming should be part of the core curriculum in education, alongside other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry and algebra.
According to the site, high-paying computer science jobs are growing at twice the national average, yet 25 states still do not allow computer science courses to count toward graduation.
In Michigan, computer science classes do count toward graduation. That’s good, because young learners are already demonstrating what they’re capable of achieving.
“Eight-year-olds know how computer programs work,” she said. “They love writing their own code.”