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Dr. Kristal Ray and 15 Snow College programming students visited a Gunnison Elementary third-grade classroom to introduce kids to computer code on Dec. 9. Ray offered one-on-one help to ensure kids understood the concepts used in Blockly, a game-like coding program. Here, she offered suggestions to a student who was hung up on a step then helped him understand the pattern of the code he used, and the student figured out the rest. - Daniela Vazquez / Messenger photo

Dr. Kristal Ray and 15 Snow College programming students visited a Gunnison Elementary third-grade classroom to introduce kids to computer code on Dec. 9. Ray offered one-on-one help to ensure kids understood the concepts used in Blockly, a game-like coding program. Here, she offered suggestions to a student who was hung up on a step then helped him understand the pattern of the code he used, and the student figured out the rest. – Daniela Vazquez / Messenger photo

 

Elementary kids getting ‘Hour of Code’

 

Daniela Vazquez

Staff writer

12-15-2016

 

The world of digital coding is being introduced to kids in local elementary schools with the help of the Snow College Engineering and Computer Science department.

Dr. Kristal Ray, associate professor of computer science at Snow, and 15 programming student volunteers, gave three hundred third- through fifth-graders the chance to experience “Hour of Code,” a global movement launched in 2013 by Code.org to bring computer programming fundamentals into elementary schools.

The team brought Hour of Code into classrooms during National Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), from Dec. 5-9.

“The point of (Hour of Code) is that we’re trying to teach young students to write code so they can develop applications,” Ray said.

CSEdWeek was launched to recognize the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a computing pioneer. It was founded as “a call to action” to raise awareness about the need to elevate computer science education at all levels and to accentuate the critical role of computing in all careers.

In 2013, Computing in the Core, a coalition advocating for K-12 computer science education, merged with Code.org. Then coalition members agreed to allow Code.org to come up with a theme for CSEdWeek. Hour of Code was born.

In the first year, over 15 million students received code education in over 35,000 events across 167 countries.

A map on the Code.org website illustrates where the program has been implemented using colored dots.

But Ray said when she first saw the map three years ago, the portion depicting Utah was barren of color, although she had worked with a sliver of the map as she brought Hour of Code into local classrooms.

Ray moved to Sanpete from Florida four years ago and noticed the lack of technology opportunities offered in local schools. She said at that time she felt compelled to assimilate technology with young minds. And so she did.

Elementary students are introduced to a program called Blockly, a JavaScript library for creating visual block programming. Kids use their iPads to move digital “blocks” into a “work space,” and then run the program they create in a “programming space.”

Essentially, young kids are learning to program the games they are playing now.

One Manti Elementary student picked up on the skills so quickly that she wrote an entire game puzzle using JavaScript, an advanced programming language, on Dec. 8.

Ray said when some of her programming students walked through the door they had no fundamental experience or knowledge of technology development.

“I think it’s really cool and I wish they would have had something like this when I was in elementary school, because I didn’t know anything about computers,” said Justus Buhaman, a Snow programming student. “We didn’t have many opportunities to explore that field at all.”

The Code.org vision is to make computer science a part of the core curriculum, alongside all other science and technical engineering courses, such as math, biology, physics and chemistry.

According to Code.org, 93 percent of Utah parents say they want their children to study computer science in school, yet only 40 percent of schools teach computer programming.

While Utah still falls behind on the instructional map, the job sector in the state is booming.

Utah currently has 4,515 open computing jobs, 2.6 times the national average demand rate, according to the website.

Even so, Utah has not yet created a state plan for K-12 computer science. Advocates say the state needs a plan that articulates the goals for computer science, strategies for accomplishing the goals and timelines for carrying out the strategies.

These applications are important for making computer science a fundamental part of a state’s education system.

“(Elementary students) are now performing like we are,” Skyler Mair, a college freshman seeking Snow’s new Bachelor of Science Software Engineering degree, said. “We’re doing this stuff now and we only started learning this stuff two or three months ago — and we’re freshman in college.”

Mair said he thinks learning technology at a young age helps kids get ahead of the curve, especially with the emerging market of technology-centered careers.