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In only one hour, students learn computer skills that could help them for a lifetime

Six local districts do Hour of Code training
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-29 07:00:11-05

CINCINNATI -- An hour can make a big difference for kids when it comes to learning – especially when that hour involves video games and robots. Students at Seven Hills School were among those around the Tri-State and the world who recently spent time learning via hands-on demonstrations during Computer Science Education Week.

Launched in 2009, Computer Science Education Week is an annual program designed to introduce youths to computer science and encourage their interest in the subject. The program, which this year was held Dec. 5-12, takes place during the week of Dec. 9 each year in honor of computer scientist Grace Hopper’s birthday.

Although it started out with a focus on policymakers and issues, the effort shifted in 2010 toward engaging students and educators. In 2013, Code.org introduced Hour of Code, through which students participate in one-hour coding tutorials.

“I think they pick it up really quickly," said Liz Lorenz, a math resource teacher at Seven Hills’ Lotspeich campus.

The tutorials help K-12 students develop computer science skills by teaching them to use programming languages to control robots and create their own video games. Younger students learn simpler methods using block coding on computers and “unplugged” coding with pencil and paper while those in higher grade levels use programming languages like Python, Scratch and JavaScript.

Often, the kids pick it up so quickly that the teachers are the ones who need to catch up.

"I’m still learning as well, so I’ll probably take a couple lessons from the kids and kind of go from there," said Lotspeich science teacher Natalie Wildfong.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Seven Hills Schools' campuses learned about coding during Computer Science Education Week.

Because children now grow up using computers in nearly all they do -- from using a refrigerator or microwave to operating a smartphone -- coding comes pretty naturally for a lot of students, she said.

"We live in such a digital world right now," said Tracy Hickenlooper, director of program development at Seven Hills School’s Doherty campus.

In fact, the younger students are, the easier it seems to be for them to pick up on new computer skills.

"The younger they are, the less apprehensive they are as far as taking risks and trying different ways to solve the problem," Hickenlooper said.

The video games, robots and characters from popular movies incorporated into Hour of Code help catch kids’ interest and make the lessons exciting.

"My favorite part was probably making my own game," said Anish Patel, a fifth-grader at Doherty. "It was really fun."

"Every morning, when I was supposed to be eating breakfast, I’ve been doing the coding," said Sydney Schneider, a fourth-grader at Lotspeich.

Educators hope to inspire students similarly in other districts where Hour of Code was implemented, including Springboro, Hamilton, Oak Hills, Indian Hill and Campbell County Schools.

In Seven Hills’ fourth year participating in Hour of Code, many students are familiar with computer programming concepts prior to Computer Science Education Week. That doesn’t make it any less fun or interesting, though. The lessons and programming languages differ from year to year and from one grade level to the next.

"I did this before using Scratch, but on Scratch, I never really learned about the pixels," Schneider said after using Code.org this year.

Doherty fifth-grader Oliver Szabo, who had some knowledge of Python and JavaScript languages, said learning about block coding during Hour of Code boosted his interest in the subject.

"Now I’m starting to code with Scratch, which is similar to the Hour of Code, and Hopscotch too," he said.

While Hour of Code offers an introduction to coding for entire grade levels and buildings, more schools also are beginning to offer computer programming courses that delve deeper throughout the year. Mariemont, Springboro, Mason, Indian Hill, Milford and Sycamore are among local districts offering ongoing coding education.

The skills students learn during Hour of Code and ongoing programming classes extend beyond computer science into other subjects and even help prepare them for careers.

"It helps reinforce the idea that certain steps will get you to a desired result," Lorenz said. "It’s helping to set them up to be flexible thinkers and collaborators."