November 28, 2015
By Martha Shanahan
Once upon a time, elementary school students learned computer skills in a separate classroom and at different time from their regular lessons.
During a visit by state Education Commissioner Diana Wentzell to Quaker Hill Elementary School last month, it was clear that coding and computer lessons are now a part of math and English lessons — no longer separate skills.
On a Monday morning, Wentzell toured rooms filled with children as young as 5 as they used basic coding skills to direct characters from the popular smart phone game “Angry Birds” around a maze.
The commissioner’s visit came before December’s “Hour of Code,” a code.org effort to promote computer programming to K-12 students.
Using software from the nonprofit computer science education organization code.org, students at several grade levels demonstrated how they are learning vocabulary, math and problem solving skills through basic coding.
In one first-grade class, kids directed a bee-shaped robot around a gridded mat printed with vocabulary words. Fifth graders designed and played a Star Wars-themed video game.
“We want these kids to be prepared for the 21st century,” Quaker Hill principal Christopher Discordia said.
“Plus, it’s just really fun, they love it,” Discordia said. “They think they’re playing a game right now, but really they’re learning how to code at a very basic level.”
Code.org was founded in 2013 to address the shortfall of computer engineers that tech companies face.
“If they don’t have these skills, they’re going to be so far behind when they graduate from college,” said Quaker Hill second-grade teacher Sarah Egan, as her students programmed games on iPads the schools bought using a code.org grant.
Wentzell said the initiative demonstrated the importance of integrating computer skills into traditional lessons.
“They’re doing all the things they would be doing in the classroom, but through coding,” she said.