Coding kids make learning fun

Heritage Woods students take their passion for computer programming into elementary and middle schools

"Computer programming is a critical new literacy — just as important as reading and writing for the next generation of skilled workers. The industry has spoken and it doesn't just want workers that know how to use software apps, search engines and internet browsers. It wants workers that understand how those things work on the inside and how to create tools that use those things to increase productivity and profitability."
– Don Blake, Heritage Woods business and computer sciences teacher

Kathleen Dunbar and Nhi Nguyen are a couple of Grade 12 girls who wouldn't have dreamed about learning computer programming when they entered high school.
And now, they're teaching it.

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"I thought [computer programming] was an unpopular choice," says Dunbar, who, after experimenting with it, now finds it interesting.

"We really need girl programmers because half the software users are female yet nine of the 10 programmers who make it are male," Don Blake

The teens are among 40 Heritage Woods secondary school students who have joined Coditek, aimed at turning elementary and middle school kids on to programming or "coding."

Heritage Woods coding 3
Heritage Woods secondary school business and computer sciences teacher Don Blake with some of the members of the Coditek club who are introducing elementary and middle school students to computer coding. With only one meeting, the club has grown to 40 high school students — and Blake calls them his "future geek army." - Diane Strandberg

Dunbar started fooling around with an introductory program at Code.org over the summer; it's not something she ever thought she'd enjoy. Meanwhile, her friend Nguyen, who was already interested in programming, thought it would be a great idea to teach younger kids about it using the same educational, tools.

Code.org has fun games on its website that allows users to build blocks of code to move an avatar, such as a flappy bird, towards its target.

The kids say it's fun, and a good way to teach the linear thinking and problem-solving skills needed for coding.

Their teacher, Don Blake, is encouraging because he sees computer programming as one of the new literacy skills that all students must acquire to succeed in the job market in the future.

The problem is that too many kids are turned off of taking computer programming in high school because it is not seen as creative. Girls, especially, are hesitant.

"We really need girl programmers because half the software users are female yet nine of the 10 programmers who make it are male," Blake said.

The first Coditek session on Monday at Port Coquitlam's James Park elementary school was a success, with 21 students coming to the computer room to learn from the older kids.

Blake hopes clubs like Coditek and other initiatives will help draw more people into programming, and that it becomes a regular part of the curriculum, even in the early grades.

"When students have experience and success early on, it develops confidence, and it encourages them to do more."

Heritage Woods coding 2
These Heritage Woods secondary school independent studies students — Petar Culiburk, Bebo Elhosary, Jimmy Randa and Shaheen Eshghi — are teaching themselves coding and are recreating and improving on games, such as Angry Birds, for Android and Apple devices using coding languages such as Java. Culiburk, centre right, is creating a program that will beat his friend Elhosary in a chess challenge. - Diane Strandberg

A group of Heritage Woods boys, however, don't need to be convinced that coding is fun. The students are doing independent studies on developing smartphone games and apps, and they see the skill as necessary for their future.

They have also joined the Coditek club and believe it's a great way to introduce children to computer programing.

Petar Culiburk, a Grade 12 student, said the program the students are teaching their younger counterparts is good for teaching "problem solving, logical and creative thinking."

"It's an easy way to get into it, (then students) might pursue a career in computer science."

Blake said parents are also welcoming the school's efforts to introduce coding. "The job market has spoken," Blake said, "and programming is one of the areas that is expanding."

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