When students gather in the Gause Elementary School library for coding club, they are ready for fun.
These fourth and fifth-graders aren’t thinking about the fact that they are, in essence, writing a computer program.
Instead, the focus is on creativity. Students lean over giant paper maps, which are made using different colored markers to draw sets of lines and dashes. Some include cartoon doodles or smiling family members next to the drawings.
Once the trail is complete, they send tiny robots, called Ozobots, to follow the commands they have drawn. It reads colors through a sensor and responds with different movements, such as forward, backward, spin, light up and speed.
Fifth-grader Jake Kettleson has been participating since the program began in the fall.
“My parents wanted me to sign up, so I tried it out and had a lot of fun, and decided to continue,” he said. “I really like to play with the Ozobots. It is really fun.”
The students work with a “blocky,” code language that they learn using code.org on their iPads.
Fifth-grader Kennedy McFadden enjoys using the iPad most.
“I decided to try out this club because it sounds like fun and my dad likes to code, and he thought I would like it too,” she said. “It starts out easy, then gets challenging but it is fun to keep trying.”
First-grade teacher Sydney Termini is the Code Club instructor. She was inspired to start the club in the fall of 2016 after coding last year with her son, Ben, who was a kindergartner.
“I was looking for a way to challenge him where he would have to problem solve and not always know the answer,” she said. “I wanted it to be fun and engaging. I discovered code.org and took a class in Beaverton. I loved it. As I started working on the courses, my son was peeking over my shoulder, then in my lap, and then taking over my computer. He was hooked as well.”
Students use a click and drop method to place their codes, which helps them become familiar with writing an algorithm to tell the computer what to do.
“We have also been working with color codes using the Ozobot robots,” Termini said. “The kids have really enjoyed figuring out what these little bots can do.”
She originally hoped to have 15 students per session, but after a parent orientation packed the room, she knew more sessions were needed.
First- through third-grade students meet on Mondays and fourth- and fifth-graders meet on Thursdays. All sessions start after school and last for one hour. It is offered free of charge, and the only requirements to attend are that students must be up-to-date on all classwork and demonstrate positive behavior.
Termini’s goal for the club is to provide students with the experience that computer science is fun and anyone can do it.
“I love listening to the group work with each other,” she said. “I love the sudden, ‘Yes! I finally got it.’ after they have worked hard on something. If someone is stuck, they help each other problem solve, figuring out why their first, second or even third attempt hasn’t worked.”
She added, “When helping others, the only rule is they must provide the help verbally and the person they are helping has to do the work. This is usually followed by an exclamation of, ‘Oh that’s why it wouldn’t work!’
“As I watch these groups, it’s fun to see the smiles and hear their laughter as they work through their courses on code.org,” Termini said.
According to Termini, providing opportunities to explore computer science at the elementary level is important to lay the foundation for classes students could take in middle school.
“My hope is that it will help them by giving them confidence to try robotics and computer science when they get there and not think that it’s too hard for them,” she said. “I hope that the problem solving that they have worked on independently or with a partner or group will help them persevere through problems they may find in math or science courses.”
Termini noted that many jobs require coding and computer science knowledge.
“I’m hoping it will help them prepare for different possibilities they may have not have thought of or would have known about without this background,” she said.
Aiden Hasselbush, a fourth-grader, enjoys creating commands for his Ozobot.
“I am interested in coding and this class is a good way to do stuff with it,” he said. “I would recommend it to other kids because it is a fun experience with coding and learning more.”