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Beaver Meadow students learn simple computer programming

  • Fifth grader Ryan Olivero's reflection on his tablet shows him watching Bill Gates in a video that's part of a lesson on coding with Beaver Meadow technology specialist Melissa Scott on Tuesday afternoon, December 10, 2013. <br/><br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Fifth grader Ryan Olivero's reflection on his tablet shows him watching Bill Gates in a video that's part of a lesson on coding with Beaver Meadow technology specialist Melissa Scott on Tuesday afternoon, December 10, 2013.


    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Beaver Meadow Elementary School techonology specialist Melissa Scott goes through the lesson in coding that Patrcia Fahey's fifth grade class was assigned as a part of National Computer Science Week on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. The assignment was designed to teach kids code by turning it into a puzzle where blocks represented lines of code and were used to solve a maze using Angry Birds characters. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Beaver Meadow Elementary School techonology specialist Melissa Scott goes through the lesson in coding that Patrcia Fahey's fifth grade class was assigned as a part of National Computer Science Week on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. The assignment was designed to teach kids code by turning it into a puzzle where blocks represented lines of code and were used to solve a maze using Angry Birds characters.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Fifth grader Zoe Nault asks a question about her cosing assignment while in Patricia Fahey's class at Beaver Meadow Elementary School on December 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Fifth grader Zoe Nault asks a question about her cosing assignment while in Patricia Fahey's class at Beaver Meadow Elementary School on December 10, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Fifth grader Ryan Olivero's reflection on his tablet shows him watching Bill Gates in a video that's part of a lesson on coding with Beaver Meadow technology specialist Melissa Scott on Tuesday afternoon, December 10, 2013. <br/><br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Beaver Meadow Elementary School techonology specialist Melissa Scott goes through the lesson in coding that Patrcia Fahey's fifth grade class was assigned as a part of National Computer Science Week on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. The assignment was designed to teach kids code by turning it into a puzzle where blocks represented lines of code and were used to solve a maze using Angry Birds characters. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Fifth grader Zoe Nault asks a question about her cosing assignment while in Patricia Fahey's class at Beaver Meadow Elementary School on December 10, 2013.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

In Room 145 at Beaver Meadow Elementary, a fifth-grade classroom, a poster of the cursive alphabet lines the top of one wall, buckets of young-adult books sit crammed on a shelf and the day’s activities are scrawled out in green marker on a giant paper pad. It could be a fifth-grade classroom from 10 years ago.

But a glance to the front of the room Monday revealed how much classrooms are changing. On top of each desk sat an iPad, face down (“Apple up,” as the teachers say), while 15 students waited for instructions. At the front of the room stood technology integrator Melisa Scott, and she was about to teach these students how to write computer code.

“You are no longer fifth-graders,” she told them. “You are computer science engineers.”

“YES!” came a chorus of whispers from around the room.

Beaver Meadow’s fourth- and fifth-graders are learning to code this week through an initiative called “The Hour of Code,” which is part of Computer Science Education Week. The goal of the program is to get 10 million people worldwide to participate in the Hour of Code, and to write 10 billion lines of code in the process. By 2020, Scott said, there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs and only 400,000 college students majoring in the field.

This week’s coding activity is just one example of technology’s expanding role in Concord’s classrooms. The district hired four technology integrators for its elementary schools last year, and they’re charged with helping teachers bring iPads and other technology into classrooms in meaningful ways. The Hour of

Code lesson is intended to open students’ eyes to the possibilities of working with computers and build a foundation for developing programming skills, Scott said.

“It’s good problem-solving skills, it makes them think outside the box, and we like to keep kids current on what’s going on to keep them excited,” Scott explained.

To excite the students about writing computer programming, the minds behind Computer Science Education Week enlisted several celebrities to explain the value of coding to students in a series of videos. Before they began coding on their own, the students heard from the likes of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and NBA player Chris Bosh.

Then, the students were asked to create code for games they know and love, such as Angry Birds. The students, with their headphones in and eyes focused on their iPads, directed red birds through mazes to capture evil green pigs. To make the birds move, they dragged specific commands with code underneath them into sequences. As the levels got higher, the mazes got tougher and the commands the students had to choose from more complicated.

Each time they completed a maze, the students saw how many lines of code it took to create. As they worked through the levels yesterday, gasps, shouts of excitement (“I got 100 lines!) and discouraged sighs filled the classroom. Once students completed all Angry Birds levels, they moved on to another game called Plants vs. Zombies, where the puzzles were even more difficult.

Ten-year-old Ben Bourgault was the second student to complete all 20 levels, and was disappointed when there was nothing left to do.

“I want to do stuff like this, it’s cool,” he said after watching a final video clip featuring a NASA engineer and a Google employee.

Tomek Hill, another 10-year-old, proclaimed that the coding was “not really that hard,” and added that he liked the math and logic required to maneuver the birds.

Most of the students didn’t complete every level when the hour of coding was up, but Scott gave each of them a web address to find this and other coding activities to continue learning on their own. She also asked the students to finish a sentence she’d posed at the beginning of the lesson, one that would help them assess the importance of the lesson they’d just learned: “Everyone should learn coding because . . .”

“It’s good to learn new things and get smarter,” Bourgault offered.

“It stretches the mind,” Joanna LeMahieu said.

“It’s a good thing to learn how games and stuff work instead of just playing them,” Carlee Blake explained.

“Congratulations,” Scott told them with a smile. “You are now part of the goal, the 10 million people to do an hour of code this week.”

Every other fourth- and fifth-grade class at Beaver Meadow will also participate in the Hour of Code this week, and first- through third-graders will experiment with an easier coding application, Scott said. Using the iPads typically motivates students, Scott said, and she hoped this activity opened their eyes to something new.

“An opportunity like this just gives them a chance to see that there’s a lot of opportunity out there, and it’s not just in Concord, it’s all over the world,” Scott said. “The 10 million people, 10 billion lines of code, that’s huge for them.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

I mean no personal insult, but you would be hard pressed to be more wrong on this. This isn't a matter of opinion - it's simply understanding what 'writing code' is. To say that school is not about learning how to code on a computer is equivalent to saying it's not about learning how to write an essay. Both are an aggregate of numerous skills learned in school. The latter combines writing skills, critical thinking and research skills among many others. Writing 'code' to develop a computer program is a direct application of mathematics and surrounding disciplines (aka STEM). Learning how to write software is one the most effective ways to introduce students to the application of math as a tool for logical and rational problem solving; a process having sadly fallen out of fashion in our culture for too long (i.e. academics / scientists are a bunch of liberals making things up as they go for reasons such as politics/Obama/whatever). I just wish Beaver Meadow was in a position to do more extensive work in this area - the 'new' elementary schools in Concord received one tablet per child - only BMS for some reason received less than 1 per 10 children. So please, keep giving the kids the opportunity to apply the math and science that they are learning - as we all know we only really understand the things that are practiced and used - not the things that are presented as abstract ideas with no application.

Wow, I think I would be more impressed if the kids actually were learning how to do math, science and read. School is not about leaning how to code on a computer. I have no issues with computers in schools, but lets figure out how to teach them the basics they are struggling with, and let them learn computers in HS. Learning is not about keeping the kids entertained. The schools will never be able to compete with video games and TV.

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