Iowa School Receives Grant to Expand Computer Science Work

Six schools in Iowa received a grant, and some of them are participating in Hour of Code.

by Molly Duffy, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa / December 7, 2016 0

(TNS)—IOWA CITY, Iowa — Dnasia Simpson ordered and reordered a series of commands on a desktop computer.

The 10-year-old put her hands to her face, clicked "run" and waited.

If she had programmed the sequence correctly, a virtual bird on her screen would move safety past a number of obstacles.

"This has to be right," she said.

When it wasn't, she quickly reorganized her sequence.

Then it was, and she waved her hands in the air and cheered.

Students in Dnasia's fifth-grade class at Grant Wood Elementary in Iowa City were some of the thousands across Iowa who practiced coding this week in Code Iowa, part of a global Hour of Code event hosted by the not-for-profit organization Code.org.

Grant Wood was one of six schools in Iowa that received a $3,500 award this week for its emphasis on computer science, mathematics and technology.

While the activities students completed looked like computer games, librarian Tricia Carty said sequencing actually teaches basic coding concepts and some JavaScript, a coding language.

By completing the first level of the game -- telling the bird to move forward, turn left, move forward, turn right and move forward again -- Dnasia had written five lines of code.

"We're getting kids to use the concepts," Carty said. "It's a different language that's now more accessible for kids, regardless of their literacy level."

For Iowa, that exposure is critical, said Angel Mendez, communications director for the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council.

"Right now, there's not a clear pathway in for computer science education," she said. "In the K-12 arena, there are no requirements for computer science. If there's no exposure to computer science, they're not going to pursue it later."

That puts pressure on Iowa's job market, which had nearly 3,670 unfilled open computing positions in 2014, the demand is three times the average, according to Code.org.

Giving all students access to the lessons -- available at studio.code.org -- also could help close the industry's gender gap. In Iowa, only 16 percent of computer-science graduates were women in 2014.

"Hopefully this sparks an interest for the next generation of innovators who are going to change our world," Mendez said.

One student who said he plans to pursue a career in programming was 11-year-old Tyler Keep, who sped through his lessons.

"I like it because you can create your own games," he said. "Ever since I was littler than I am, I've wanted to make games."

In addition to stoking students' interest in computer science, coding lessons also give students problem-solving skills they can use offline.

Reworking code teaches students about managing frustration and learning from failure, said Mike Havercamp, a teaching coach for the Iowa City district.

"There's no better way than coding -- which demands 100 percent accuracy -- to teach people about failure," Havercamp said. "No one gets this on their first try."

©2016 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.