(Tribune News Service) -- Kenzie McConnell giggled the entire time she presented her project, a digital biography she created to explain life and hobbies.
As the 11-year-old Baymonte Christian School student navigated the presentation she created, which was projected onto a screen in front of a class, she showed a digital character in a bedroom with a puppy, party hat and other items. Each time she clicked on an item, the screen changed background to explain an aspect of her life, eliciting a shy grin from Kenzie.
Asked to explain how she created the project, the squirming, giggling girl became matter of fact as she explained how she programmed the backgrounds, the visuals and the cues for each screen.
Kenzie and 26 other students are part of the Baymonte Makers Club. A new, afterschool club run by parents at Baymonte Christian School in Scotts Valley, it is focused on teaching students from fourth to eighth grade the ABCs of programming and the possibilities behind it.
“That one was pretty easy,” Kenzie said of the recent assignment. “I just like making silly projects and things like that.”
Parents organizing the club task students with challenges each week to test what they learn through simple, somewhat silly assignments. But parents want it to be more than silly projects about puppies and parties, seeing it as an inroad into a traditionally complex topic.
“The word programming already has a connotation that if you don’t understand programming, it’s difficult,” said Troy Kitch, one of the parents organizing the club. “You think wow, that’s crazy. They’re teaching kids programming. But it’s updated to such a level where it’s really drag and drop.”
The simplicity of the program showed in Kenzie’s code for her presentation. Though the programming is a jumble of colors and boxes, they all click together like Lego blocks.
“It sounded fun and cool and my friends were doing it,” Kenzie said. “And I wanted was to learn how to make things and projects.”
Parents directing the focus of the club, which started in February, borrowed lessons from MIT and Harvard University, which share information freely with the public.
Ashlyn McDaniel, a 9-year-old student whose parents signed her up for club, likens the coding to writing.
“If you want (something) to move and turn, you have to write a code to do that and it’s kind of like writing,” she said.
But it wasn’t easy at the start for McDaniel.
“At first, two weeks ago when I started, it was kind of difficult and I was lost and had no idea what to do,” she said. “But now that I’ve been here a little longer, I figured it out and it’s fun.”
With about 10 more meetings planned for the remainder of the semester, parents directing the club hope eventually to have the kids do physical computing — integrating the program into physical interactions. The club collects a $175 fee from students for supplies, food and materials. There are plans to distribute MaKey MaKeys — a piece of technology that allows users to connect the digital programs with the physical world — to the kids.
“To me success is when it’s their idea and we’re exploring how to do their idea,” Thomas said. “That’s when they’re like, ‘I can make a robot move, that’s easy. But I want to do something better than that or I want to make it dance.’”
©2015 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC