(Janesville, WI) By NIck Crow, Gazette
Parker High School senior Lavonne Sieling couldn't hide her excitement Tuesday working with first-graders at Washington Elementary School.
"They're so cute," Sieling said as she helped them through an Angry Birds branded coding lesson. "I can't believe how quickly they learn."
Sieling was at the school with classmates from her advanced placement computer science class. They were on hand to talk to the students about computer programming.
Besides Washington, students from Craig and Parker high schools visited students at Roosevelt, Madison and Jackson elementary schools and Marshall and Franklin middle schools as part of the Hour of Code.
Students in the schools were given coding exercises with themes such as "Star Wars", "Minecraft" and "Frozen" aimed at getting students interested in computer programming at an early age.
The Hour of Code is an initiative by Code.org designed to help bridge the gap between the low number of computer science graduates and a growing industry demand. The event exposes students in the district to one hour of coding experience.
"We are here to break coding down so that it's simple and fun for the kids," Sieling said. "It's useful to learn at a young age. It's not hard; it's just often presented in a way that looks overwhelming. If presented at a younger age, it's easy to learn, and more kids would know how to do it."
Parker teacher Bob Getka said that in the next 10 years 1.4 million computer programmer jobs will be available in the United States with only 400,000 people trained to fill them.
Companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Dropbox and Amazon support Code.org. The nonprofit organization has developed a K-12 computer science curriculum designed to be teacher-friendly, student engaging and developmentally appropriate, Getka said.
The Janesville School District is the only district in Wisconsin partnering with Code.org, Getka said.
"We are one of the few districts to offer programming classes at both high schools, but one of even fewer to extend it to elementary and middle school," Getka said.
Getka said the district will begin offering computer programming in middle school next year. Some elementary schools in the district, such as Washington, have after school clubs focused on computer science.
"A lot of kids think computer science is a really a white boy, nerdy thing to do," Getka said. "But we're trying to show kids that there's a lot of people in computer science. It's the No. 1 paying four-year degree. There's such a high demand for it, but so few have the skills."
Code.org was initially launched in February 2013 after former Microsoft developers Ali and Hadi Partovi released a YouTube video entitled "What Most Schools Don't Teach." The video was designed to urge schools to create computer science classes. After it received a strong response, they began creating an organization that supports a worldwide movement to expand computer science education to every student.
Amanda Werner, fifth-grade teacher at Madison Elementary, has been involved in the Code.org agreement with the school district since its inception. Janesville is the smallest district among the about 75 districts nationwide to have this partnership, she said.
"The shift in this area of academic programming matches the shift in the job market and the desired skill sets of a graduate," Werner said.
"Our district is one of only 5 percent in the nation that offers AP Computer Science despite the intense professional demand. There are only about 30 high school computer science teachers in the state of Wisconsin, and we have two of them," she said.
"These opportunities give our students a tremendous advantage."
Werner said every elementary and middle school student in the district is participating in the Hour of Code events during Computer Science Education Week.
The Hour of Code is a one-hour computer programming event designed to build excitement and show both teachers and students that anyone can code, Werner said.
Exposing students to basic computer programming teaches problem solving, critical decision-making, persistence, collaboration and communication, she said.
"As classroom teachers, it is our responsibility to help our students master grade-level standards," Werner said. "However, we also understand that our grade level is just one rung on a ladder that ultimately hoists students to the ranks of college and career readiness."
"If we do not expose students to computer science instruction in elementary school, we rob them of these essential mindsets, so by the time they can elect to take computer science in high school, they have the misconception that it's too hard or it won't be something they'd like," she said.