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Students work on writing lines of code together on a shared IPad (from left) 12th grader Mitch Weiss, 8th graders Ean Voigt and Luke Kosel. (Nick Longworth / Enterprise)

‘The Hour of Code’ prepares students for tech future

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

By Nick Longworth

On Wednesday, Dec. 11, Park Rapids Area Schools took part in an event known as “the hour of code.”

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The event was part of Computer Science Education Week, from Dec. 9-15.

Students participating in the “the hour of code” were taught how to write basic “lines of code” to understand and complete tasks. With the help of upperclassmen, students learned together how to make basic computer functions happen.

“Teachers for both the middle school and high school are here assisting the kids of their classroom in the activity. We also had 12th graders pair up with 8th graders; 11th graders pair with 7th graders; 10th graders pair with 6th graders and so on. We put them together mostly in groups of two, using the older students IPad to work with,” said Laurie Conzemius, high school media specialist and district curriculum integration specialist.

“We had the activity set up and then the two students’ would multi-task between the two levels, working creatively and thinking through the process. They can make simple iPhone apps, mazes and puzzles. What the students are finding out is that if they change something any little bit, different kinds of things will happen and it might not be what they expected. It’s really a lot of direction following and thinking critically,” Conzemius said.

“Code” can be best understood as the language that computer would speak. The way a programmer tells a computer what to do is by creating a “line of code,” often in another program designed to create coding. Each “line of code” then becomes a direction for the computer to complete.

“In the activities that the students are doing, the code is written in more simplified terms. There are several different programs that we have had the students go to use. We are doing very simple things like having a turtle move forward a certain number of spaces or in a game, having rocks fall and a character tries to avoid them,” Conzemius said.

“Every single movement that happens, you need to write that line of code to give it that direction. It gives the students an opportunity to try it out without really knowing too much beforehand. Neither one has to be very knowledgeable in code because they can help each other. Although some of the students practiced the opportunity because they wanted to be able to teach it, in most cases the kids were coming in on an even playing field.”

As technology increasingly dominates society’s functions, Conzemius feels “the hour of code” will help students be able to more successfully adapt and understand how computers work. She sees many careers being available in the future to those who possess such a skillset.

“The number of jobs that will be available years from now and the number of students who will have the skills to fill them; there is a huge gap there that needs to be filled. We need to better teach kids how to understand the computing language. This is just one way to maybe get kids interested in (programming) so we can create students that are able to get those jobs in the future,” Conzemius said.

“Schools aren’t teaching as much computer science that needs to be taught in order to fill all of the jobs that will be available in the future. The hour of code is an introduction to what computer science is all about. Most of these students won’t spend their careers as computer programmers, but we use computers in everything we do. Think about the computing power in just your phone, car or even garage door opener; all of those things use computing power. I think to have a little understanding of how that works and how it’s created is important for all of us.”

Lessons beyond the value of computer programming were also learned throughout the event.

The way the students work together is also just incredible. One student would be saying, “gosh I just can’t get it to go forward” and the other one would say, “Well, I think if you maybe try this...” and they worked together on it,” Conzemius said.

“One funny thing is that juniors and seniors especially really wanted to go in and be the experts. Even though we told them not to do the activity ahead of time, most of those students went ahead and did it anyway; not only for their grade level but for the other grade as well. It was really fun and not so much a challenge, but really exciting to see their interest level in it,” Conzemius said.

“I hope this will be an eye opening experience as to what will be available to them in the future; it’s another career that they may have never thought about. It’s another way of learning.”

Overall, the first year of the event went without challenge and if possible, Conzemius would like to make the event an annual one.

“(If it’s available next year) we would absolutely love to do it again. We want to offer as many opportunities for our students as possible. Kids who live in rural areas don’t always have exposure to things like this. Most schools don’t really offer any kind of classes in coding, so this is at least one way of getting started,” Conzemius said.

“I hope that we will have some students who will follow through and have careers in computer science. If some of our students are excited, then that is a very positive thing.”

“The only real issue we had was when we looked at the thermometer and saw it was twenty below.”

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