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Local schools promote coding during Computer Science Education Week


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos School District STEM education includes students working with blocks and Bee-Bot robots, above, to build their problem-solving skills..

Local students joined the international education community last week in participating in Hour of Code activities during Computer Science Education Week.

Hour of Code – a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries – is dedicated to reinforcing the importance of computer science education.

Although many local students are exposed to computer science lessons in the classroom, the annual event engages the entire education community, said Karen Wilson, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) coach for the Los Altos School District.

Students from kindergarten to 12th grade participated in computer science activities hosted by Code.org. Challenges were based on skill level, and the website hosted Minecraft, Pixar and Star Wars tutorials to immerse students of all ages in the activities.

Coding with buddies

The Los Altos School District’s theme – “Code with a Buddy” – encouraged students from different grades to partner with each other in each school’s STEM lab.

“There is a huge social aspect to it,” said Sheena Vaidyanathan, head of the CSTEM (the “C” stands for “creativity,” “collaboration” and “computer science”) program at the elementary school district. “Many people have this perception that you sit in a corner and write code. We are trying to get away from that.”

Vaidyanathan said that while coding and computer science are familiar to students, Hour of Code is an opportunity to highlight the importance of high-tech skills.

“We build up the excitement,” she said. “We get off our regular scheduled classes and dive into the new coding tools.”

According to Vaidyanathan, coding isn’t important only because the STEM field of employment continues to grow.

“Coding is something that teaches you problem solving,” she said. “It’s a way of thinking that can help you learn everything else. Whatever you do in your life, if you learn to think like a computer scientist, you can break down problems and solve them while thinking logically.”

Vaidyanathan added that when students teach how to give instructions to a computer, they are learning how computers think.

“One of the wonderful things about coding is that it teaches you persistence,” she said. “You are encouraged to fail and fail again. This is the one place where kids enjoy that – they enjoy the challenge.”

Vaidyanathan also thanked the Los Altos Educational Foundation, which provides funding for the district’s STEM education.

Inspiration

At Los Altos High School, students participated in an after-school Hour of Code activity, where students of all abilities participated in coding challenges and won raffle tickets and pizza.

“The goal of the event was to expose beginners to coding and hopefully spark an interest as well as provide fun challenges for students who are already experienced and interested,” said Jeanne Yu, math and computer science teacher at Los Altos High. “Our hope is for more students to sign up for an Introduction to Computer Science class or an AP Computer Science class, as well as get involved outside of school in events such as hackathons.”

After students took part in the challenges, Yu said they completed a survey in which 40 percent of them said the event made them more interested in signing up for a computer science class, and 47 percent reported that they were already interested.

“I think that it is important to learn how to code, and am glad that you are trying to motivate others to try coding,” one student said while completing the survey. “This event inspired me to take CS next year. Please continue this event.”

Yu shared another student quote, which revealed that the student originally came for the more than 40 raffle prizes but ended up enjoying the coding activity.

For more information, visit code.org.

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