When you enter Jill Rickert’s room you quickly find out what is going on in the world of the 7 to 8 year old. Some kids are wearing that bright green that many people wear to support a cause. Many of the girls have chipped or chewed blue sparkly nail polish and the boys, some of them, just walk about with their shoes always untied. I just tied some boy’s sneaker yesterday.
Typically I enter Jill Rickert’s room around 9:30, which is right after snack time. I know it is after snack time because the carpet I sit on is often littered with graham cracker crumbs or little pieces of granola bar wrappers. I go to Mrs. Rickert’s room to teach her second graders the fundamentals of computer programing and math. Second graders learning how to program computers, can that be true? Well, yes...it is true. With the help of iPads and the app, “Hopscotch”, students are learning things, interesting things--and they seem to enjoy it. Students are learning how to make the avatar of their choosing draw a square, a rectangle and just yesterday, students drew circles. To draw a square students need to know that squares have 4 equal sides and four equal angles. The whole concept of a 90 degree angle is really not something they are taught until they are older. My colleague, Mark Carls, and I have taught students how to draw a square and to draw a diagonal line in the square. To do this, students had to learn about rotating a certain angle and specifically they had to figure out what half of 90 degrees is.
Students have had some real “aha moments.” I recall a day a couple weeks ago when a student created a square, which was the task or prompt I had given the students. To keep the student learning, thinking and active, I asked her to “make the lines of her square thicker. She made a mistake. She changed the line thickness by moving over the “change line width” block to the end of her code. She could not figure out why it would not work. Eventually, after thinking it through, she realized that when you change your code at the end, nothing happens because nothing is being executed at the end of the code. She realized that if she moved the “change line width” to the front of her code it worked. I heard the student, who was asked to get ready to go to gym, get up, walk over to Mrs. Rickert and say, “I figured it out all by myself.” You could just feel the confidence and self-esteem in this child grow.
According to statistics at code.org, by the year 2020, there will be one million more computing jobs than there will be students to fill them. We need to teach our students programming. It will prepare them to get jobs that either don’t exist yet or already exist but are just unknown. For many people just the words computer programming sends a chill of fear up and down their spine. If we continue to teach students from a young age computer programming, that “chill of fear” will be a thing of the past.
By: Rick Weinberg, CA BOCES Model Schools and Technology Integrator at Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School