Students discover fun of computer science

The Elgin Courier: December 19, 2018

On Monday, December 3, students of all ages and their parents spent the evening plugged in at the Elgin High School library learning about computer science during the Hour of Code.

(From left to right) Zoey Graham watches as Lisa Nelson plays the game AP Computer Science Principles students Mitchell White and Jonas Casares helped build. Players must give directions to guide a turtle out of a maze.

Hour of Code is a worldwide event in which organizations, such as schools, host local events for people to learn computer science and coding skills. Hour of Code is run through, an organization that promotes computer science education in schools, and is a part of Computer Science Education Week, which was held December 3-7 this year.

During the Elgin Independent School District’s Hour of Code event, students and their parents learned about robotics and programming with tools such as Ozobots, which are tiny robots that can be programmed to travel in different ways by drawing paths on paper, and the programming games offered through

According to the sign-in sheet from the event, between 35 and 40 people participated.

In addition, students from the high school Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles class showed off their class project, which is a game designed and built by the students that teaches the principles of procedural programming. The game consists of helping a turtle find its way out of a maze by giving it directions.

“I was hoping my kids would have the chance to showcase what the accomplished to the community,” said Blake Fox, the AP Computer Science Principles teacher, “so I was really excited to see them be able to take this project from something that we started before Thanksgiving and turn it into a product that they were able to be really proud of.”

Hour of Code events were previously held at the campus level, but this event was the first annual community, district-wide Hour of Code event. This year, a number of teachers and staff who had been teaching computer science separately got together to put on one event together.

“We’re all basically talking the same language, we’re all talking the same goals,” said Patrick Reid, Elgin ISD coordinator of digital learning. “I shared what I wanted to, and they said, ‘we already have that planned out.’ So, why don’t we just get all of our eggs in the same basket and figure it out together?”

These faculty members included Neidig Elementary School technology teacher Stacey Jacobs, who had participated in Hour of Code for the last five years, and Elgin Middle School college and career readiness teacher Patience Blythe, who has participated in several Hour of Code events at Austin ISD where she previously taught computer science and engineering.

“We ended up realizing we all were going to do the same thing in our classes, so we may as well make it a community event,” Blythe said.

Jacobs said working across the district has shown how everyone is on the same page with computer science.

“We don’t always get to go to the middle school and high school to see what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s kind of neat to see what I should be doing to get them ready for middle school. That was kind of neat to see we are actually doing that and didn’t even realize it.”

During Computer Science Education Week this month, more students in elementary and middle school also played the programming games and participated in Hour of Code activities. At the high school level, the AP Computer Science Principles class set up their projects in the library again last week during lunchtime.

Fox said computer science is one of the fastest-growing fields in the country, and Austin specifically has seen growth in the tech sector.

“It’s starting to permeate a lot of different fields,” he said. “Having our students exposed to computer science and feeling comfortable with it will give them a leg-up when they start to look for jobs and apply for university programs.”

Blythe said computer science education helps students develop skills needed in the 21st century, regardless of their future career, such as problem-solving and taking the time to solve those problems step-by-step.

“We can’t really anticipate what the careers of the future are going to be, but when we teach problem-solving skills and how to work through a process, that’s going to be beneficial regardless of what kids do for their career choice,” she said. “It teaches students to be really specific and methodical with their steps in order to get the programs to work, and it teaches them how to take the necessary time to get something done.”

Letting students explore computer science at a young age gives them the opportunity to learn by trying, failing and figuring it out, Jacobs said.

“The gaming provides a place for the kids to be okay with failing, and it provides a place for the kids to have fun in the mindset of learning,” Reid said. “You’re learning about the world around you by just doing. It’s the same way we as kids learned to play in the sandbox.”

Reid said he hopes to see the Hour of Code event grow in coming years.

“It’s going to take a lot of people and a lot of community support,” he said. “The more support we get, the bigger it can get, and the more benefit we have for our kids.”

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