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Exploring digital skills through pop art, animation and a family journal

New elective offered at Mill Creek Middle School

Comstock Park — Mill Creek Middle School’s new digital skills class is helping students learn the Google platform and introducing them to block coding.

Zoe Wisocki, a seventh-grader, enjoyed it. “I thought it was fun,” she said. “It’s a good class to have with your friends.”  

She estimated she completed about 10 projects. They included cutting and pasting photos and a pop art project that involved tracing a picture of a reptile and adding color. She and her classmates also used animation to redesign a Google logo and she created a volleyball game. She enjoyed the coding portion of class the most.

Rob Lucas, technology teacher, is offering the 18-week elective for the first time this year. 

Eighth-grader Luis Alvarez said he enjoyed being able to make something move using block coding. In the class he created a tennis game and a photo journal with family vacation photos from Florida.

“I learned a lot of things about computers and coding,” Luis said. He said the digital skills class, along with math and language arts are his favorite subjects.

Seventh-grader Zoe Wisocki enjoyed a computer assignment to redesign and animate the Google logo

A View into Future Careers

Eric Kelliher, one of five career readiness consultants at KISD, said coding is preparing students for future careers that focus on technical components. 

“Coding is better preparing our kids for the world that is ahead of us,” Kelliher said. 

Jobs in coding, cyber security, digital content and media are high on the list of jobs with good occupational outlooks. He explained that exposing students to these types of careers at an earlier age helps them explore and find out where their gifts and talents are.

A coding class helps students learn the technical side of a language and understand the “behind the scenes of how technology functions,” Kelliher said.  

Technology teacher Rob Lucas assists Zoe Wisocki with a project as part of her digital skills class

Transitioning to Google

With the turmoil and challenges of the pandemic, this class helps students keep up with their work at home. Lucas teaches one section of the class to sixth-graders, with two each for seventh- and eighth-graders.

Lucas said computer learning in the past was mostly Microsoft-based and the new digital skills class is helping students transition to Google, noting “A lot of kids needed training on Google products.”

“I use different activities for each of the grade levels,” he said.  Google applications taught include Google Docs, Google Drawings, Google Sheets and Google Slides.

The class also uses CS First/Scratch, a programming language to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art. Coding lessons are set up in CS First where students learn coding basics. 

In CS First’s drag-and-drop learning environment, students put together blocks or pieces of instruction which tell their creation what to do. When combined, these blocks can create animated stories and games.

This semester Lucas also plans to incorporate SketchUp, a 3D modeling program for drawing and design applications (www.sketchup.com).

One of the goals of the digital skills class is to get students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and possibly take future classes in high school, college or the Kent Career Tech Center. 

“We want to introduce them to some of the skills,” Lucas said.

He said students seem to enjoy the coding part of the class most, especially being able to create a game or sports commercial. One student was so engaged in the block coding, he worked on it over the weekend, coming into the classroom with the proud announcement, “Mr. Lucas look at what I did at home!” 

As a first-time coding teacher, Lucas admitted that sometimes students helped him. He relied on a few of the students with some previous coding experience to help support others or answer his own questions.

Many middle schoolers were introduced to block coding for the first time in the new digital skills class
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Karen Gentry
Karen Gentry covers Comstock Park. She moved to the Grand Rapids area in the mid-1980s and has been a resident of Comstock Park since 2002. She understands the complexity, rewards and challenges of the teaching profession as she has five years of experience as a high school teacher at River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich. and St. Stephen High School in Saginaw. As a reporter for the Advance Newspapers and Mlive she covered Sparta, Kent City and Northview schools. She is happy to be a part of the great team of journalists at School News Network and writing about Comstock Park Public Schools. She is a graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School in St Joseph, Michigan and Central Michigan University. Read Karen's full bio

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