Coding @ MTS–Beyond The Hour

The Hour of Code is coming!  This event, organized by code.org, takes place each year during Computer Science Education week in early December in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.  The event is designed to demystify “code," to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science.  At MTS our 4th through 8th graders have been taking part in the Hour of Code since its inception in 2013.  

The Hour of Code allows our students to learn that computer science is fun and creative and that it is accessible for all students.  Learning to code, creating step-by-step commands for a computer to follow, opens the door to an understanding that students can be consumers of technology and the creators of it. Our involvement in coding goes far beyond one hour, though.

 At MTS we teach coding and computational thinking in a variety of different ways across the grade levels.  Below is a brief overview of the concepts that are introduced and some of the resources that we use to teach this exciting and essential foundation for computing.

First graders get a word-free introduction to computational thinking as they play their way through “The Foos.”  This fun filled logic game teaches concepts such as pattern recognition, sequencing and loops as they manipulate instructional blocks to solve each puzzle challenge.

 Second graders are introduced Code Studio on code.org.  Through this curriculum, the students use blocks to create computer programs that help them develop problem-solving skills and learn to persist through difficult tasks while developing concepts such as sequencing, loops and events.  At the end of the unit, students use coding blocks to create their own custom games or stories.

Fourth graders continue with Code Studio on code.org.  They are challenged to solve puzzles with blocks of code as they continue to learn about sequencing, loops and events and are introduced to conditionals, algorithms and debugging.  Alongside this curriculum, the students begin to physically write code through Code Monkey, an educational game environment where the students learn to code in a real-world programming language called CoffeeScript. CoffeeScript is an open-source programming language that compiles to JavaScript.

The journey through Code Studio on code.org continues into fifth grade.  This year the students delve deeper into programming topics introduced in previous grades to create flexible solutions to more complex problems. They are introduced to working with functions and nested loops.  The fifth grade also continue to practice physically writing code alongside their block-based programming work as they explore Bitsbox.  This online application allows them to create apps that work on computers, phones and tablets using a variation of Javascript and HTML5.

Sixth grade sees the students complete Code Studio.  The students tackle puzzles with increased complexity as they learn how to combine several concepts when solving challenges.  By the end of this curriculum, students create programs that let them showcase multiple skills, including “for loops” and functions with parameters.  Additionally, the sixth grade are introduced to writing code in Python as they play their way through Code Combat. 

The fundamentals of game design are the focus of seventh grade.  The students use Gamester Mechanic to play their way through game-based quests as they design and make their own video games.  The quests are designed to teach the guiding principles of game design, allowing students to think about how systems work, how they can be modified and to experiment and test theories.

Sixth, seventh and eighth graders have the option of signing up for an additional elective computer class on Thursday afternoons.  During this double block, the students work on a project of their choosing.  Coding is of course one of the options, but they have a wide variety of projects to choose from, including Photoshop, digital music, stop motion animation and 3D design utilizing our 3D printer. 

Coding requires that students learn more than a single computer programming language.  We want all of our students to develop an understanding of the thinking that underlies all coding, regardless of language.  We also want all students to be engaged, whether they view themselves as a “coder” or not.  We strive to do just that while offering the “coders” in the crowd the option to accelerate in the upper grade level electives.  We will, of course, continue to examine our program, ensuring that we give our students the skills they need for their future.

Trisha Cahill
4th Grade Homeroom, Technology, Math