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School cracks code of student involvement

In addition to reading and exercising, Top of the World Elementary School fourth- and fifth-grade students have another option when it comes to lunchtime activities: computer programming.

For the past six weeks, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Wolsey has opened up her classroom to students who want to learn what goes into creating a website or designing a video-game character.

Students are on their own, free to explore coding using a website called Code.org, which walks them through the basics of writing computer language and offers tutorials on JavaScript.

Principal Ron La Motte suggested the club as a way to introduce students to computer science.

"Our kids aren't exposed to coding. The programmers are coming from overseas," La Motte said.

Code.org reports that only 1 in 10 schools in the United States offers computer-programming classes.

Alex Wick, 11, decided to check out the club at a friend's suggestion.

"The first day was super fun, and I got more into it," Alex said as he sat with his laptop during lunchtime Monday.

Alex tinkered with commands, searching how to trace outlines of three circles that formed the shape of a snowman. Alex had to figure out how to move the cursor among three snowmen without drawing a line connecting the figures.

He experimented with different turn angles to get the most accurate trace.

Classmate Maty Carlson, 11, made a website dedicated to cats, including a photo and text, using Code.org's step-by-step instructions.

Maty is interested in computer science and has attended the club since it began.

"I want to learn," Maty said. "I don't play sports on the playground. I'm usually reading a book."

Computer programming jobs are expected to grow significantly worldwide over the next several years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Computer programming can be done from anywhere in the world, so companies sometimes hire in countries where wages are lower, the Department of Labor's website says.

The types of jobs include writing apps for phones, creating animated movies, working on social media and building robots that could explore other planets, according to Code.org.

Students gain valuable skills when they learn code, such as paying attention to detail and thinking clearly, said UC Irvine professor Crista Lopes, who teaches at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences.

"There's not a branch of modern society that is not touched by software," Lopes said. "Coding requires a disciplined approach to solving problems. It's like math, but more fun than math because you can see the effect immediately."

La Motte hopes the club will continue and grow next year.

"This is what the classroom of the future looks like," LaMotte said while observing students riveted to their computer screens. "It makes sense to them and it has a purpose. It's not just learning a concept."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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  • Principal Ron LaMotte, second from right, checks up on fourth-graders Gabe Dodge, left, Mack Pardun, center, and Noah Lessard, right, during a basic computer coding class on Monday at Top of the World Elementary School in Laguna Beach.

  • Bryce Alderton Signature

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