Lower School Students Learn Programming Through Hour of Code

Thursday, December 7, 2017

If you had a great idea for an app, would you know how to build it? Heathwood's Lower School students recently got a taste of what it takes to code--essentially, to tell computers what you want them to do--and they'll have opportunities to pursue coding further as they move into Middle and Upper School.

Coding is one of the most in-demand skills there is, but because it doesn't fit naturally into any part of the traditional K-12 curriculum, many students aren't exposed to it. Enter Hour of Code, a worldwide program that offers ways for schools to give students an hour of basic coding experience. The goal isn't so much mastery of any particular skill set as it is basic exposure--a chance for students to see if they like coding and want to explore it further.

Heathwood K-4 students took part in Hour of Code as an enrichment activity this month. K-1st grade students worked with a Code-a-pillar--an interactive toy with a "head" and multiple nodes. Each node is programed to instruct the head to move in a different way. Students are given directions about a series of movements their Code-a-pillar is supposed to make and, without initially knowing which movement each node initiates, have to put several nodes in the right sequence to choreograph the correct series of movements. 

Students in 2nd-4th grades worked on computers and iPads to complete an activity created by Disney in which Disney characters Moana and Maui are sailing their boat and students have to create code to help them achieve several objectives.

"It's like solving a puzzle," said Heathwood computer science teacher Ryan Novak. "And in the process, they're learning the basics of computer coding--not just how to do it but also, and more fundamentally, how to think like a coder, how to know what questions to ask and what kinds of steps you need to take to get a computer to do what you want it to do."

Thanks to Heathwood's new Maker Space, which opened this semester in the former weight room under the Robinson Center, students of all ages now have the space and the resources to explore coding--and that, said Novak, is good not just for them but for the industry: "Demand for coders is just exploding--it's one of the fasted growing needs we have, and it's not being met."

That's one reason coding opportunities have been expanded in the Middle School as well. All 6th graders spend one quarter doing coding as a related art, and 7th and 8th graders can opt into it as an elective. With that level of exposure, students who are so inclined can take advantage of the Maker Space to further explore coding throughout their time at Heathwood.

Learn more about Hour of Code here, and about coding in general at code.org.