LAPEER, Michigan — Every other Wednesday night, as many as 40 headphone-clad elementary students are packed into the computer lab at Mayfield Elementary. Wielding creative minds and fast-moving mice, the students are enmeshed in a discipline that one could not have imagined being taught in elementary school just a few years ago.
The students are learning about computer science and, more specifically, coding.
According to veteran educator Elizabeth Willette, who started the Coding Club this school year, students as young as Kindergarten are learning how to think like computer scientists. They have to troubleshoot, problem solve and, ultimately, become proficient in the language of technology.
In human-to-human communication, small mistakes often do not prevent messages from being received and understood. When communicating with a computer, however, very small mistakes in long lines of code can be terminal. That means that students must fix errors before moving forward. Find them. Fix them. And carry on.
Thanks to Code.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding access to computer science, students can take advantage of a plethora of free resources aimed at sparking an interest in the lucrative and growing field of computer programming and software development.
“It’s a tremendous resource for our students,” Willette said. “And the best part: most of it is free.”
Code.org is the organization behind the popular “Hour of Code” campaign that offers free one-hour-long tutorials tailored to students across the globe. Each student who participates in the “Hour of Code” receives a Certificate of Completion from the organization. The goal is to expose all students, for at least one hour, to the creative juices that can flow out of engagement in computer science.
“When you really think about it, computer science ranks right up there with art and music as an outlet for creativity.” said Willette, whose ultimate goal is to get coding into more of the District’s elementary schools.
Getting the students interested, she says, is not the hard part. Having enough space and technology to accommodate that interest is more challenging.
“By this time next week, we may have as many as 50 in the club,” she said.
She also noted, with obvious delight, that many of the students are coding at home. She can track their progress using a web-based assessment tool. (She also monitors the process of her nine-year-old grandson in Japan, who is also totally into it.)
Students can also log in and play (and critique) video games created by students their age using the Gamestar Mechanic coding software.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the creation of Coding Club is the collaboration that is happening between students. Many of her club members have introduced other students to the craft and helped them get started.
Willette’s children and grandchildren all share her passion for technology, and she’s excited to share it with students of all ages.
If you are interested in supporting Coding Club, or just want to know more, contact Elizabeth Willette at firstname.lastname@example.org.