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Fairfax Kindergarteners...Writing Computer Code?

Mark Zuckerberg himself would be proud.

Daniels Run Elementary kindergarteners play a game that involves writing computer code for the 'Hour of Code' challenge on Friday, Dec. 13. (Photo: Jennifer van der Kleut/Patch)
Daniels Run Elementary kindergarteners play a game that involves writing computer code for the 'Hour of Code' challenge on Friday, Dec. 13. (Photo: Jennifer van der Kleut/Patch)
It was a sight not many would expect to see, walking into one of the kindergarten classes at Daniels Run Elementary in Fairfax City Friday.

Kindergarteners on laptops and iPads—writing computer code. And no, it wasn't the gifted class, either.

Daniels Run (DRES) was one of just two schools in Fairfax County to participate in the "Hour of Code" challenge as part of Computer Science Education Week. However, where other schools opted only to include their higher grades in the challenge, DRES Principal Adam Erbrecht said, they wanted to make the challenge open to all seven grades, and all 770 students, at the school.

"Young children these days are avid technology consumers. We wanted to give them a chance to be on the 'producer' side of it too," Erbrecht explained.

Naturally, to get kids excited and learning in a fun way, mobile apps and games were designed at various age levels to introduce the students to coding.

Two of the games the kindergarteners tried were Kodable and LightBotThe games can be played on almost any device, from laptops to smartphones to tablets or iPods, and involve drag-and-drop sequencing to move characters around on the screen and program them to do what the student wants.

At the kindergarten level, it starts with the basics, by dragging arrows pointing different directions into sequence boxes. At the sixth-grade level, Erbrecht said the students were doing more high-level coding such as typing out code sequences in symbols.

To add another element into the learning, Erbrecht said the students worked in pairs.

"We have them partner up on purpose, to collaborate on problem solving," he said.

At every level, Erbrecht said the kids were amazing and impressing him, and really getting into the concept and enjoying it.

"The kids have been very excited, all week, even wanting to skip recess and stay in to do more code, and even taking the games home and showing it to their brothers and sisters," he said.

DRES School-Based Technology Specialist Megan Godek said one of the sixth-graders blew her away by going home the night after doing his Hour of Code session and downloading the JavaScript tutorial game on his computer and figuring out how to create a moving SpongeBob, all on his own.

"It's amazing, the interaction, engagement and collaboration the kids have gotten out of this idea of an Hour of Code," Godek said. 

Erbrecht said the idea was presented to Daniels Run Elementary by a parent who works for Code.org, a nonprofit organization that began the Hour of Code challenge. Code.org works to expand participation in computer science education by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color.

Erbrecht said the idea of the students learning 21st-century skills and technology, while working on collaboration and problem-solving, is something DRES is all about, and he especially wants to encourage more girls to consider careers in computer science.

"Nine out of every 10 students in high school that are working on code like this are boys, so it's great to see the girls excited about it too," he said.

Erbrecht said the Hour of Code at DRES has been so successful that the school plans to look at ways to incorporate coding and computer science into the curriculum at various times throughout the year, as he pointed out a poster on the wall advertising the week of activities.

The poster on the wall features a photo and quote by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, that says, "Fifteen years from now we'll be teaching code just like we do reading or math, and wondering why we didn't do it sooner."

To learn more, visit Code.org.


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Sarah Hamaker December 14, 2013 at 09:19 AM
To me, this type of "extra" learning is more valuable to students because it engages them more actively in computer usage. I have four kids at DR (K, 1st, 4th and 5th) and all enjoyed the Hour of Code, even the upper-grade girls, who initially had expressed disinterest in the project but came home excited about what writing code was all about.

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