Once school lets out for summer vacation, most children’s minds are far from the classroom. However, The Londonderry School District offered multiple courses in its Summer Enrichment 2017 Program this year, all aimed towards keeping the momentum going all summer long. The programs ranged in topic from creative writing to chemistry and started in late June.
“Break the Code,” a course that challenged students to “explore and unlock the secrets of computer programming,” according to the description on the Londonderry School District’s website, is the most recent program students participated in. Held at South School, “Break the Code,” which ran for five days from July 11 to 19, brought students from all three of Londonderry’s elementary schools for two hours a day to learn the fundamentals of computer coding through coding games and other technology.
Penny Webster, a technology assistant at Matthew Thornton Elementary School, and Martha Miller, a math enrichment teacher at Matthew Thornton that used to work at South School, came together to run the program because they both feel strongly that teaching young learners about computer programming and computer science is important.
“There’s such a need for it,” said Webster. “There are so many programming jobs and there are so few people learning programming.”
Code.org, one of the programming sites they used during “Break the Code,” says there are currently 519,698 computing jobs nationwide, while last year, only 42,969 computer science students went into the workforce. The site also says that a computer science major can earn up to 40 percent more than the average college graduate. Not only are there jobs out there for this type of knowledge, but, according to Miller, programming and coding teaches students a variety of skills.
“It’s so important for all of the children to do,” said Miller. “It’s algorithms, it’s sequencing, it’s logic, but it’s also perseverance, where they just don’t give up.”
For the first few days, the students, ranging from grades two through five, were tentative with the technology, mostly because many of them didn’t have a lot of experience with programing and coding. While Matthew Thornton Middle School does offer some introductory instruction on coding through participating in the “Hour of Code,” a designated hour during Computer Science Education Week in December where classrooms and schools all over the country commit to learning a little bit about computer science, there was a range of knowledge represented in the classroom that allowed students to learn from and with each other.
By the fifth and final day, students were comfortable and self-directed, breaking off into self-appointed groups to work with the different programs and technology. Some of the technology used, other than programs online like Tynker, Lightbot, and Code.org, were more hands on and physical, such as Osmo and Sphero.
Osmo is a “unique gaming accessory” for the iPad, as stated on Apple’s website, that comes with games and learning opportunities that coincide with play for an effective teaching method. The accessory package comes with a mirror that is placed over the camera on the iPad – this camera reflects the table in front of the iPad where blocks are placed with commands on them. The students must put the commands in the right order to make the game on the screen work.
Sphero is a small, spherical robot that incorporates robotics into programming – the children can use their phone, computer, or iPad to control the movements of the sphere and change its color. The students were excited to manipulate the sphere and explain how all the different technologies and programs they were using worked.
Aryana Chilles, a student and cheerleader going into the fifth grade, said her mother had found a link to this program and thought she would enjoy it. The beginning of Chilles’ summer is relatively quiet, considering cheerleading doesn’t start until August, and since she enjoys computers and technology, she was eager to spend some time working with these programs and wishes that “Break the Code” had been longer than five days.
“It turns games into learning, it’s fun to do, and it makes people want to do it,” she said. “The coolest thing is that you can also do this at home.”
Although students can access these programs at home, Chilles hopes that this program will be returning next summer, as did many of the other students. Both Miller and Webster intend for this program to return.
“There’s a real interest in this, I think,” said Webster, citing an after-school coding club she led two years ago. It had 24 open slots, and within 24 hours of opening for registration, the club was full, indicating to her that this was not only a field of interest for both students and their parents, but a necessary one.
Miller agreed and exclaimed, “I would love to do it again. We’ve learned a lot, and I think we can make it even better next year.”