SMUS Broadens Its Technological Scope

by Denise Lamarche, Director of Academics

One hour is all it takes to introduce children of all ages to coding and get them excited about computer science. Before winter break, SMUS students across K-12 participated in the global campaign, Hour of Code. Last year, when Code.org launched the initiative, 15 million students participated and the campaign was supported by education and technology leaders worldwide. The goal was to demystify code and demonstrate that anyone can learn the basics. In addition to helping to build hard skills like HTML, CSS, JavaScript and app development, these activities have other important skills embedded: critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration. It’s this combination that results in a fun learning experience for students, which is especially important when introducing new concepts.

“SMUS’s participation in the Hour of Code and joining the millions of students worldwide is essential in order to receive a proper introduction to the possibilities around coding and computer programming,” says Education Technology Specialist Maureen Hann.

In the Junior School, Maureen and Gordon Chan worked with students to develop pre-programming skills such as sequencing, problem solving and logical thinking using web-based programs such as Tynker, and iPad apps including Kodable and Lightbot, which are designed to build early coding skills.

Middle School students took part in the Hour of Code through their Information Technology classes, where they were introduced to pre-programming skills by designing games in StageCast, Tynker or Scratch. Some of our more experienced students continued on with independent projects in HTML and JavaScript.

Senior School students took part during selected Math, Science and Information Technology classes. They were able to choose from a variety of activities – depending on their level of programming experience – including JavaScript tutorials in CodeAcademy, web-based game creation in CodeAvengers, and creating iPad or Android apps.

Collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving are important skills we are looking for our students to further develop to prepare them for university. The Hour of Code provided this opportunity in a fun and engaging way. The student engagement and interest in what they were learning was apparent and commented upon by the faculty who supported the initiative. At the end of one of my visits in a classroom, a student summed up their experience: “This is so awesome! We must do this again.”

Fortunately we will do this again – and students won’t have to wait for the next Hour of Code to do so. SMUS is introducing new opportunities for students this year to continue exploring with coding.

This week the Junior School launched its Tech Club. More than 25 students turned up to Monday’s extra-curricular club to continue building the skills they learned during the Hour of Code. Through tutorials and coding games, featuring Angry Birds and Ice Age characters, students will continue learning block-based coding to learn about repeat-loops, conditionals, algorithms, functions, and variables.

In the Middle School, all students will be completing an introductory coding unit in their Information Technology classes.

The Hour of Code experience for our Senior School students will be advantageous during course selection time when students consider computer science options. Moving forward, we are working to rebuild the computer programming stream in our Senior-level courses and introduce more coding and robotics activities across our K-12 extra-curricular experience.

In my opinion, the key metric of success at the Hour of Code was that most students were still obsessively programming when the hour was up and reluctantly had to end their session and move on to other things. Engagement was high at all campuses, and some of the feedback we received from parents included comments like, “My son came home that day and couldn’t stop talking about Scratch! We’ve been back on it several times since then.”

Some might wonder if in that Hour of Code students were actually “learning to code” or if they were just going through the motions, typing in keystrokes, following directions and making colours appear on the screen? Well, of course nobody can expect students to deeply learn or retain anything from a single hour of programming, but hopefully this event and our expanding computer programming opportunities might spark some interest in coding and computer science.

For more information about the Hour of Code initiative, please visit code.org/learn/beyond. This is an initiative in which we will definitely be participating in December 2015!

(photos by Kyle Slavin)

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