Articles

Orange students monkey around with computer coding

By: Andrew Wind, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
Date Published: Thursday, December 08, 2016
 

WATERLOO—Orange Elementary School fourth-graders kept their eye on the banana Wednesday as they learned to write computer code.

The students logged on to www.playcodemonkey.com using Chromebook laptops in the media center and computer lab. They worked to complete a series of challenges in which a monkey had to retrieve a banana. In order to do that, the children needed to write code — essentially typing in directions to get the monkey around barriers to the banana.

It was the first foray into Code.org’s annual “Hour of Code” event for Orange. The nonprofit organization has set a goal of 200 million students across the globe doing at least one hour of coding during Computer Science Education Week, which ends Sunday. Code Iowa, the parallel statewide effort operated by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, said more than 500 schools and organizations across the state are taking part in the effort.

A group of about 15 Hawkeye Community College early childhood education students moved from table to table offering tips or pointers when someone was stumped on what to do next. Jill Dobson, Hawkeye’s STEM coordinator, led the effort to get the college students to work with the elementary school on the project. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

When fourth-grader Caleb Surprenant reached Challenge 5, the monkey needed to skirt a diagonal row of bushes to reach the banana. By clicking on a ruler with the computer mouse and dragging it to the monkey, he could measure the number of steps needed. He typed in the directions “Turn left, step 15, step 14, banana.”

The game flashed the message “You’re getting there,” meaning he still needed to add some steps. “OK, so do you know which steps you missed?” asked Emily Knutson, an education instructor at Hawkeye who was watching over Surprenant’s shoulder.

He typed in “right” between two of the directions and, when that didn’t work, changed it to “turn right.” The monkey was then able to reach the banana.

“I think it’s fun,” said Surprenant. “You get to use your brain and, like, you get to actually code.”

Before watching a couple of informational and instructional videos at the beginning of the hour, the boy said he didn’t know anything about coding.

Knutson said she and many of her students also were unfamiliar with it. “On Monday, we did the program ourselves,” she noted. The students went through all 30 challenges so they could come up with solutions to some of the problems the children would encounter.

They were “trying to ask the questions (the children) need to ask to solve the problems,” she said. In addition, Knutson noted, it’s “practice for what they’ll probably need to teach in the future.”

Earlier this week, another Waterloo school that participated in the Hour of Code won a $3,500 technology award from the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. Highland Elementary School was one of six award winners, which included one from each of the state’s STEM regions. Many of the schools that participated in the coding event competed for the awards, which were supported by Google and Verizon.

Highland will use the funds to purchase Chromebooks to expand student access to further coding activities and programs.

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier