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Third grade students Mason Dolen, Madalin Doll and Danail VanWatermulen played a coding game in Megan Kichenwitz’s class. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

Cracking the Code: Perham students learn basic computer coding

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Students in Perham’s public schools took part in an ‘Hour of Code’ as part of national Computer Science Education Week last week.

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Hour of Code, a new program this year, was intended to introduce students to basic computer coding. Over the week, almost 17 million students across the country wrote 558 million lines of code.

Coding is the process of writing instructions in a way that a computer or program will understand.

According to Code.org, nine in 10 schools do not offer any sort of computer programming classes. Thirty-six states, including Minnesota, do not include computer science classes in high school graduation requirements.

“I first heard about the Hour of Code at a technology meeting in Fergus Falls,” said Jeff Morris, a math teacher and technology integrationist for the Perham-Dent School District.

Morris had wanted to introduce more computer science to students at the high school for several years, and thought this would be an ideal opportunity to get started.

After getting approval from the administration, Morris began setting up a plan.

“Every student, kindergarten through 12th grade, will be exposed to some coding this week,” said Morris in an interview last week. “We’re finally teaching math stuff that kids can use.”

Three approaches were used for different age groups.

Kindergarteners through second grade students were led through a maze game, as a class, by their teachers.

“We’re adding the codes,” said students in Faith Wokasch’s kindergarten group.

As the mazes got more difficult, the kindergarteners continued to work out whether the character needed to be turned or moved forward.

“It’s teaching us learning,” said another student after she decided to turn the wrong direction and walked into a wall.

Third grade through middle school students played the same maze challenge as the younger students, but worked on their own.

“It’s a mind puzzle,” said Andrew Whitaker, a student in Megan Kichenwitz’s third grade class.

Even though the games were designed to teach students about the basics of code, they didn’t seem to think of it as work.

Sue Jones, who teaches keyboarding and computer applications to middle school students, supervised a group of sixth graders for their coding time.

“They were really intrigued,” said Jones. “It was fun to see students running around and helping each other. Some of them really picked it up.”

At the high school, students used a different lesson, which taught them how to draw using computer code.

“I’d never even heard of code,” said ninth grader Brooklyn Koetke. “It’s a lot of fun, and extremely easy.”

“I wouldn’t just sit at home and code, but it’s cool to know how,” added classmate Annika Werner.

Koetke and Werner were in Sandra Wieser-Matthews’ speech class while coding. Junior Kanyon Edvall led the hour.

Edvall learned how to write code through YouTube videos three years ago because he liked working with computers.

Later this year, Edvall and several other high school students will join Morris in taking a free Harvard computer science course called CS50.

CS50 is an introductory computer class that attracts almost 700 students on campus, and more through iTunes University.

Big names all over the country have begun to encourage young people to consider computer science.

“Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains,” said Bill Gates on the Code.org website.

Some politicians have also shown support for increasing computer education.

“Computer programmers are in great demand by American businesses, across the tech sector, banking, entertainment, you name it,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio. “These are some of the highest-paying jobs, but there are not enough graduates to fill these opportunities.”

Computer Science Education Week is over now, but free resources are still available for anyone interested in learning more about coding at Code.org.

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