In a first-of-its-kind program for Upper Arlington Schools, 70 Upper Arlington High School students, along with mathematics and computer science teacher Dr. Diane Kahle, visited each of the district's elementary and middle schools Nov. 29 to lead a program called Hour of Code Across UA.
Kahle and her students sought to extend a program that's been offered after school to UAHS students for the past three years during Computer Science Week in December.
This year, Kahle proposed that her students take computer-code training to younger students, based on her belief that they all will need computer skills. Her idea dovetailed with the nonprofit Code.org's campaign to expand computer science in schools.
"Coding teaches logical reasoning and problem-solving skills, and Code.org's Hour of Code is a fun way to learn to code," Kahle said. "Up until now, many schools and classrooms have simply not included coding or computer science education.
"Students now are learning their iPads and laptops and even phones are more than a communication and game-playing tool," she said. "Many who try Hour of Code are now learning how to program their devices to solve problems, to make apps or even make games."
Throughout the day, UAHS computer-science students worked with an estimated 2,425 younger students to teach basics of computer coding.
Many of the exercises, especially for elementary school students, were similar to computer games.
In one lesson, students at Tremont Elementary School were instructed to use computer commands to help navigate a character from Angry Birds so that it could recapture eggs stolen by a disingenuous piglet. At times, they used multiple commands so their birds could traverse ground and obstacles en route to the pig.
Tremont third-grade teacher Erica Riesen encouraged her students to remain positive as they learned by trial and error.
"This is something where you're going to try and you're going to mess up," Riesen said. "You're going to need perseverance. So take a deep breath."
Kahle said that through Hour of Code, elementary and middle school students learn concepts about logical sequencing, conditional "if" statements and coding loops.
"Each classroom will start at a specific level but has a wealth of choices of activities. ... They might think they are playing games, but they are learning logic and problem-solving through coding."
While working with fifth-grade students at Tremont, UAHS sophomore Avi Hari explained that Hour of Code Across UA was intended to help plant seeds of knowledge and interest among young students in something they could use in elementary, middle and high school and possibly as a way to carve out career paths.
"It's to get them interested in computer science and just this type of learning as a whole," Hari said.
In another classroom, second-grader Jasmine Thomas admitted the coding she was learning to move her bird around obstacles was difficult, but she kept at it and was heartened by assistance from UAHS sophomore Winston Basso-Schricker.
Basso-Schricker was challenged by questions throughout the session with second-graders, but he and teacher Jill Prout not only were able to keep students engaged, but they also showed how computers could be used in the classroom when they used a language translator to provide instructions in Turkish to a non-English-speaking student who had enrolled at Tremont earlier in the week.
Tremont third-grader Colin McGuire said Hour of Code helped foster a budding interest he's already developed in computers and coding. He said he aspires to be a "white hat hacker," which is someone who breaks into protected systems and networks to test and assess their security.
"You find out the bad stuff, like finding out ways to get into cars," he said. "That way, car companies can update their security.
"I'm hacking, but I'm not using it to steal," McGuire said. "I'm unlocking it. I'm finding out how to break into cars so you can prevent that from happening."
Although not all students might be as interested in computers and coding right now, Hour of Code is "just enough to get them hungry for more," Kahle said.
The Hour of Code website, hourofcode.com, is an option if students and parents want to continue to explore coding, she said.
Kahle said computer-science education "is just starting to blossom."
"The high school will offer six different courses next year in computer science," she said. "Many other classes, such as art, engineering, media and business classes, also use computers as a tool."
Kahle said she hopes events like Hour of Code would help spur the evolution of more tech-oriented curriculum throughout the district.
She said according to code.org, nearly 500,000 computer-related jobs in America are unfilled, and last year, 43,000 students graduated from college with a degree in computer science.
"I hope that a course in computer science will become a requirement for high school graduation," Kahle said. "This event is one needed step in UA Schools developing a K-12 plan for computer science education."