Last Tuesday, Courtney Stepp’s kindergarten class at Benson Hill Elementary School was busy learning not just their normal ABCs, but those of a new language as well — computer programming.
The kindergartners were paired with fifth-graders who helped them learn the basics of coding and programming through the “Hour of Code,” designed to introduce young students to the basics of writing computer programs.
Hour of Code, a program from Code.org, is an introduction to computer science. Students are able to learn the basics of computer science, as well as develop skills including logic, problem solving and creativity. All the elementary schools in the district as well as some middle schools hosted the program between Dec. 5 – 11 as part of Computer Science Education Week.
According to Ellen Dorr, the school district’s director for Digital Learning, last year fewer than 3,000 students participated in the program. This year, the number is anticipated to be higher and the Digital Learning team is already thinking about integrating more computer science courses into the curriculum.
“We’re trying to add in more ideas like computer science and getting students into computer science classes in high school… part of that is developing a plan for articulation. Some of that is through early exposure,” she said. “Hour of Code is one of those opportunities to get kids exposed to computational thinking and logic, problem solving and creativity.”
Currently Hazen High School offers AP Computer Science and other schools offer basic computer programming classes.
Integrating computer science and programming classes are easier for elementary schools, but it can be trickier for middle and high school students. For example, middle schools participating in the Hour of Code would have to find specific content areas, like math, to integrate the program into, compared to elementary schools that could fit it anywhere in their schedules.
Participating in programs like Hour of Code is a first step to gauge student and teacher interest for the district. After looking at the data for this year’s participating classes and students, Dorr said her team will be analyzing what the next step is to “support our students and enabling them for the 21st century living.”
The district has been keeping up with 21st century living this school year, as they were able to purchase Chromebooks for students thanks to the technology levy approved by voters in February. The levy has also enabled access to graphing calculators and online programs like myON, as well as additional wireless capacity across the district and updating teacher laptops.
One of the priorities for the Digital Learning department is to increase learning opportunities and providing those opportunities. To achieve this, the district teamed up with King County Library System to provide students with full access to online materials and services. They’re able to log into their special accounts and access databases, e-books, as well as 30 free sessions each month of online homework help services, all without a physical library card.
“With Digital Learning, the real potential is having a student-centered learning environment where all resources that are available are being used and students have an agency and ownership over their learning,” Dorr said. “Hour of Coding is a place where some of that can be introduced — the idea that students are not just consumers but producers and creators and collaborators.”