Tech company teaching young programmers

Finger Food Studios donates programmable Sphero SPRKs and expertise to School District 43 middle school students

A Tri-City technology company has partnered with School District 43 to introduce computer coding to students as young as 12.

And on Tuesday, school trustees got a peek at what some Grade 6 and 7 students are learning with the help of Finger Food Studios.

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Anysia Andrisoaia and Corbin Lawrence, both students at Maillard middle, used their iPads and an app created by Finger Food to direct a spherical object called a Sphero SPRK around the room.

The little ball glowed different colours when told to by the students and jumped over some cables in a demonstration that showed the versatility of the tiny robot and the keenness of the youngsters to learn programming.

"Programming is really a necessary language today," explained Michael Smit, a representative of Finger Food, a hardware and software engineering company based in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam that recently donated dozens of programmable Sphero SPRKs to SD43 middle schools.

He said his company has some practical reasons for wanting to partner with SD43: Finding skilled programmers is difficult and the more students who learn about coding and are turned on to it at an early age the better for filling vacancies.
"It's hard to find great people," Smit said. "Getting it into the classroom is a big first step."

In addition to providing the Spheros, Finger Food is also working with SD43 teachers to design education programming using the programmable devices.

Teresa Roberts and John Sarte, co-chairs of the initiative, told the board the curriculum will eventually be implemented at all 14 SD43 middle schools, with many students already clamouring for the opportunity.

"They are asking for coding," Roberts said, adding that she hopes all schools in the district will take part in "An Hour of Code" during Education Week, Dec. 7 to 13. The idea is that teachers will organize one hour for students to experiment with coding using various online tutorials as well as working with the Sphero SPRK.

According to Sarte, the SPRKs are a great way to introduce younger students to coding because they are fun to play with, and students don't even know they are learning math and science, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
They can also be used by older students in physics and math classes.

"Many of our students have a pent-up desire to learn coding but for other students, we needed another way to get kids interested. Sphero is that for us."

SD43 superintendent Patricia Gartland said the initiative fits in with the revised kindergarten to Grade 9 curriculum now being introduced to schools across B.C. "We really want everyone to have an opportunity to learn coding and be incredibly successful in our world," she said.

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