Students learning coding basics to prepare for tech future
Students learning coding basics to prepare for tech future
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Roanoke students try programming a robot mouse

One of Northwest ISD’s goals is to produce well-rounded students. On one end of that spectrum, students visit the district’s OLC to learn about the environment and nature directly in the outdoors. This month, many schools are operating on the other end of the spectrum, learning about computer programming.

Programming – or coding – is a highly sought-after skill requirement for high-tech jobs, and most of those jobs also have higher starting salaries than typical post-college career opportunities. To help prepare students for a tech-focused future, schools across the country are taking part in “Hour of Code,” a global event designed to teach coding fundamentals through one-hour courses that provide a building block for future interest in programming.

At Roanoke Elementary, every grade level – even kindergarten – participated in Hour of Code over a two-week span. Though the school has used the Hour of Code website at www.code.org/learn in the past, this year students took part in basic coding tutorials using introductory-level education robots to learn principles of coding.

At the second-grade level, for instance, students would input directions into a robot mouse to get it to the toy cheese at the end of a maze. At the fifth-grade level, students would input more complex directions into a robot car, including angles and distances in centimeters, to get the pen it held to spell a word.

Kelley Valdez, the school’s library media specialist who coordinated the event, said she went beyond the Hour of Code website to give students an understanding of where the expansion of technology can take them.


 
“As technology grows, we're going to need people to make that technology works.”
 
KELLEY VALDEZ, ROANOKE LIBRARY MEDIA SPECIALIST
 

“I told them that we didn’t even have computers in schools when I was growing up; even when I first started teaching, we didn’t really have them,” she said. “We’ve come so far. When I first came to Roanoke, we only had teacher computers and a computer lab – no tablets, Chromebooks or anything beyond that. We’ve had this conversation with older students, and they understand that technology is only becoming a bigger part of our world. As technology grows, we’re going to need people to make that technology work.”

Just as computer programmers writing software create series of instructions they later execute, so too do students programming the robots Mrs. Valdez got the school. To make the robot mouse finish a maze, students enter the number of times it has to move forward, left or right to reach the toy cheese and complete the maze. For older students programming the robot car, they have to measure the distances they want the car to travel and provide it with either a direction or exact angle to turn. The task of using the car to spell with the pen it carried provided additional challenges.

Fifth-graders said making the car spell the word “code” was difficult, as they had to backtrack over previous pen markings for intricate letters such as “e,” and they also had to decide how the letters would look before sending the car on its way. While fourth-graders didn’t have to make the car spell, they did have to get it to go around chairs at specific angles, starting with 90-degree angles and working up to more difficult driving challenges, demonstrating what they just learned about angles in math.

Alex Rice, a Roanoke fifth-grader, said coding the programmable car meant carefully planning the steps as well as some trial and error.

“Before we started typing in the program, we figured out how long we wanted the letters to be – like how many centimeters we wanted it – so on each letter we’d program it to say how far to go forward or backward,” she explained. “We only had a few sheets of paper, so we had to be careful but also keep on trying when we got stuck.”

Roanoke fifth-graders programmed a ProBot to write

Mrs. Valdez said Hour of Code helps students see coding as a career path or simply as a skill that could potentially benefit them one day, even if it’s just a basic understanding.

“I just want students to see that maybe this thing they’re excited about could be something that provides opportunities for a future career,” she said. “A lot of students play ‘Minecraft’ and things like that, but they may not see that there are careers out there where one day they can take their passion for something like that and make it a career. Even in other areas, it gives students a real-life connection to what they’re doing and seeing how technology works.”

Pierson Fojtasek, a fifth-grader at Roanoke, said the coding experience made him realize just that.

“I’ve always wanted to be a sports player, but now that we did this, I’m really liking the challenge and how it’s made me into a technology geek,” Pierson said, adding that he’s participated in Hour of Code each of his six years at Roanoke. “I probably want to be a technology engineer if I can’t be a sports player.”

TRY HOUR OF CODE
To try Hour of Code’s online programming tutorials, visit www.code.org/learn to view introductory coding lessons applicable for people of all ages.