Students expand horizons with computer coding class

BRETHREN — In today’s world there are very few professions that do not utilize computers in some part of their regular duties.

Brethren teacher Bill Cunningham explains to the Kaleva Norman Dickson Board of Education the Code.org professional learning training he and teachers Mitch Knoll and John Prokes recently received to become certified. This year both Brethren and Bear Lake schools will be offing coding classes as a result of the training.

It is why school districts are always trying to find ways to give students every advantage they can place at their fingertips when it comes to opening doors in their technology education. This year the Kaleva Norman Dickson and Bear Lake school districts will be offering the Code.org classes after several of their educators did professional learning this summer certifying them to teach computer programming classes.

“This is something we are going to offer at both districts and it is something we are pretty excited about,” said KND/Bear Lake dual superintendent Marlen Cordes.

Cordes said KND teachers Bill Cunningham and Mitch Knoll, and Bear Lake’s John Prokes attended the Code.org Professional Learning Conference that was held earlier this month at the Mariott Hotel in Grand Rapids.

KND principal Jakob Veith added that school officials are excited about the prospect of bringing this new option to their students.

“This is going to be really great for our kids,” said Veith. “These teachers are now certified to teach computer programming and took a week out of their summer to go and do this training. We are now going to have a seventh grade computer coding class that Bill will be teaching and a high school one that Mitch will teach.”

Veith said a lot of doors will be opened with these classes as he can foresee students having a strong career interest in what they can learn from these classes.

“I see this as being a great opportunity for our robotics team and students to extend their learning as well,” said Veith.

Knoll currently is the Robotics coach at KND, while Prokes fills the same role over at the Bear Lake Schools.

“We have had four years of Robotics and one of the things that is critical to the program is having a student with expertise in coding,” said Prokes. “This will lend into that very nicely, as kids can apply what they learn into that program.”

Computer Science Design (CSD) was designed and written using the K-12 framework for Computer Science Education and the Computer Science Teachers Association Standards.

Cunningham said that it is a great opportunity to assist the students on what may lead to a great career.

“The state of Michigan has adopted as of May the new computer science standards and they are rolling them out,” said Cunningham. “They are going to be implemented in a three-year plan. The big hook with it is there currently is 11,136 open jobs in computing in Michigan and they are located everywhere. The average salary in Michigan for those jobs is $81,575 compared to the other job’s average salary of $48,300.”

Prokes agreed about the importance of such a program.

“I love computer science and in the science, math or engineering field you are kind of in it by default,” said Prokes. “I programmed and did it in college, but hadn’t really thought about it since then until now. I have used Code.org in the class before where they put out this thing called An Hour of Code where they tried to get kids involved in coding. I implemented that and the kids liked it.”

Cunningham said the national numbers in computer science and information technology positions are projected to grow 13 percent over the next decade.

“One of the speakers said that the children going into kindergarten will face a world where 65 percent of their future jobs we don’t even have a clue what they will be, other than they will be based in computer science,” said Cunningham.

All of the instructors were given a manual from Code.org with 83 lessons to teach students or a whole year of curriculum.

“They broke us out and we actually had an opportunity to participate in the lessons,” said Cunningham. “They then gave us an opportunity to teach a lesson as well. Within the lessons there are three big parts with the first being the HTML code and each student builds their own website. The next unit deals with basic programming creating games and the last part is circuit boards. They actually create programming for a circuit board. So it’s not just virtual, but actual programming.”

Prokes said it was a busy week.

“The training was intense as they can’t teach you all you need to know about teaching computer science in that one week, but they give the foundation, tools and resources and everything you need,” said Prokes. “Now all we have to do is use our skills as teachers and bring it to the classroom.”

Prokes said at Bear Lake there are two levels with Middle School Discoveries that is for mainly sixth to eighth grade students, but is still applicable for ninth and 10th grade students as they plan to do at their school.

“We are doing it as an elective, and the other part is Computer Science Principles which is more high school or advanced placement where kids had experience with computer programming before,” said Prokes. “Down the line, I could see us offering that class.”

More importantly Prokes said it will open up those young minds to explore in coding and will be excellent for their students.

“The one thing that stands out about this is you are collaborating with each other, but it also gives kids the opportunity to be creative and express themselves,” said Prokes.

Cunningham said Code.org‘s values states it all.

“It says, ‘we believe that computing is so fundamental to understanding, participating in society that it is valuable for every student to learn as a part of a modern education,” said Cunnigham. “‘We see computer science as a such liberal art, a subject that provides students with a critical lens for interpreting the world around them. Computer science prepares all students to be active, informed contributors to our increasing technological society whether they pursue careers in technology or not. Computer science can be a life changing and not just a skill changing experience.”

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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