Nebo District is joining a national movement in moving forward computer science in our students by participating in Computer Science Education Week the week of Dec 7-11, 2015. (csedweek.org). Computer science skills are increasingly relevant for our students to master with some experts suggesting reading and writing code is a basic 21st century skill all students should be competent in before graduation. Students are starting at grades as young as kindergarten to learn the basics of coding. Beginning in elementary schools and advancing up through junior high and high school years, schools are offering more computer science classes and providing opportunities for students to get exposed and excited about what their future might hold for them.
Hour of Code is a world-wide event hosted in December in conjunction with Computer Science Education Week. Over 145 million students participated in the event last year with President Obama even tackling the challenge to code for one hour during that week. From structured lessons to more creative and exploratory kinds of activities, coding can be engaging and accessible to all children. Activities can be done on computers, phones, and tablets and individually, in pairs or together as a group. If access to devices is an issue, various “unplugged” activities don’t require them. Code.org sponsors the event and has a wide variety of lessons available where students who are Minecraft, Star Wars, or even Elsa enthusiasts can find an activity that suits them.
Goshen Elementary, under the direction of computer teacher Tanya Curley, is hosting a school-wide event during Hour of Code Week where each student will be exposed to an hour of coding in their regular, weekly computer class as well as some unplugged activities in the classroom. Tanya who organized an Hour of Code event last year as well as this, says, “As an educator I am thrilled to have such an amazing resource to teach kids coding. It gives youth in a rural area in Utah outstanding opportunities to succeed in a changing world job market. A lot of students who struggle in the classroom on a normal basis, for whatever reason, are the students who quickly catch on to coding. This gives them the opportunity to teach, explain and collaborate with their peers (taking on a leadership role that they have never had before). It does not matter what language the students speak at home; code is a language all youth can excel in. Coding challenges students to think critically and step out of their comfort zone. It gives them the opportunity to see positive effects of their own determination and persistence.” Sierra Bonita Elementary is also planning a school-wide event where he has arranged for a school-wide kick-off assembly with Cathie Ogden, Engineering Manager at Symantec, then each student will participate in an hour of coding by rotating through the computer lab sometime during the week. Maple Ridge Elementary partnered with Inside Sales, a company that monitors purchasing trends over time. Inside Sales sent several software specialists in their company to work with 4th, 5th, and 6th gr students in showing students what coders do, how coding impacts students daily, and let them through an activity with binary code that ultimately spelled out the letters MAPLE RIDGE. The students loved it and the faculty appreciated Inside Sales spending time with their students for an authentic experience with coding from those in the field. Over half of the 27 elementary schools in Nebo are participating in similar activities.
At the junior high level, almost 400 girls in 7th-9th grade participated in a special girls-only field trip where girls will be bused from their neighborhood junior high school to Nebo’s Advanced Learning Center to watch the documentary CodeGirl about groups of teenage girls from around the world that use computer software to make programs and apps that make their community a better place. Girls also spent time in computer labs during the field trip digging right into coding experiences. Izzy Hixson from Mapleton Junior High was excited about seeing so many girls “just like me”. She continued on to say, “I had fun meeting so many girls from all the different schools and was motivated and encouraged seeing the examples of how girls my age use coding to make their neighborhoods a better place.” It is inspiring and helps girls break down stereotypes of the kind of people who use and understand computer applications. Female engineering teacher at the ALC, Khristen Massic, is passionate about all students, particularly girls, have the skills and abilities to excel in nontraditional fields such as computer science or engineering. Massic says, “I have always been an advocate for getting girls interested in STEM careers. When I watched CodeGirl for the first time, I felt that it would be a great way to get junior high school girls excited about computer science. Many girls are interested in STEM-related career options in elementary and junior high school, but somehow lose interest while in high school. An all-girl event like this one is meant to keep girls interested in those careers. I teach engineering and I typically only have one to two female students per twenty-five male students--which I am continually trying to increase. I believe that girls would be more likely to pursue STEM-related careers if they are exposed to positive experiences and mentors throughout their young lives.” Alan Ashton, principal of Nebo’s Advanced Learning Center where students have early college experiences, has worked hard to create a school that all students can excel in. Ashton states, “As a school, the ALC is committed to helping all students achieve early college success. We are thrilled to host this event for the young women in our district so they can see the opportunities that exist for them in the 21st century workplace. How cool is it that we have filled a bus from every Jr. High with girls that want to be a part of the "Hour of Code.” We look forward to hosting other events that will help young women see the many opportunities that exist for them in the world of STEM.”
In addition to the week’s activities, Nebo District hosts a variety of other activities throughout the year designed to engage students in STEM activities. Teachers at all levels are instructing more digital skills in existing classes and new courses are being developed. Over 750 elementary students have participated in an after-school robotics class that lasted 10 weeks this fall with that many more students lined up for a winter class beginning in January. Several after-school coding camps were held for students in grades 4-9 in November with more coding camps beginning in January (watch for registration information which will be coming in elementary and junior high newsletters or you can register directly at http://pub.lucidpress.com/nebocodingcamp/). Mt. Nebo Junior High is especially passionate about sparking interest in their students in STEM fields. Teachers have been holding STEM club after school for a few years and have just started a math club where students will participate in MathCounts math competition. Likewise, high school aged students will have the opportunity in March of attending a 24-hr straight coding camp/competition in conjunction with other high schools along the Wasatch Front. We are excited about all of the opportunities available to Nebo students.