Hampton Bays Fifth-Graders Learn The ABCs Of Computer Coding

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One of fifth-grader Haley Weissbard’s favorite parts of school is learning how to write HTML codes.

Basic coding—including HTML, JavaScript and Python—is now taught to all students at the Hampton Bays Middle School due, in part, to the growing need for computer scientists in the workforce.

The idea, according to Assistant Principal Anthony DeBlasio, is to introduce and familiarize students with the concept of computer coding.

“At the middle school level, we don’t want to push them on a path,” Mr. DeBlasio explained. “We just want to show them that the path exists.”

That gentle push has still managed to spark an interest among many of the district’s middle schoolers.

“It’s so much fun,” Haley said while coding on Friday afternoon. “There’s a lot of things I like about it.”

Haley’s class participated in an international movement on Friday called “Hour of Code.” Started by a nonprofit group called Code.org, the movement encourages school administrators around the globe to set aside an hour for one day so they can introduce students to the world of coding.

While they already spend about four weeks touching on the basics of computer programming during their half-year Digital Leadership class, Hampton Bays fifth-graders still participated in Friday’s event.

“There’s really a big move right now to expose children to the computer sciences,” Mr. DeBlasio said.

He noted that this year, more than 600 students in his district participated in the event—approximately five times more than last year.

During their classes last Thursday and Friday, students opened their Chromebooks—no paper notebooks were visible—and logged on to Code.org to play a special video game designed to teach them coding. The game allows the user to select a character who travels through different levels, collecting gems while also avoiding obstacles. To move the character through the game, the user needs to type in specific coding that tells the character what to do.

For example, when Haley wanted to move her character—a man donning a protective vest and helmet while also carrying a sword—through a door she had to type in the code self.attack(“door”) to break through it. If she typed in the wrong code, the character could not advance on its quest.

The level proved to be no challenge for Haley, who was already introduced to coding in her Digital Learning class. “But some levels are harder than others,” she explained.

Mr. DeBlasio noted that last week’s exercise, regardless of whether or not it inspires other students to get into coding, also helps students learn about problem solving and develop teamwork skills.

Though he had some issues at first, fifth-grader Christian Pensa still had a blast.

“So, you basically need to know the right codes to complete the level,” Christian said. “It’s really a lot of fun.”

Christian, who was also previously introduced to coding in his Digital Learning class, was busy helping other students sitting closest to him during last week’s class. As others watched him, Christian maneuvered his character through a maze while also dodging bolts of lightning.

“Some levels are hard,” he said. “They progress in difficulty, so they get harder as you go along.”

If students type in an incorrect code, their characters cannot advance. Students also receive an alert, written in green, informing them that they’ve made a programming error. They must then use their problem-solving skills, along with hints at the bottom of the screen, to figure out what the right code should be.

Teacher Scott Garofola explained to students that that process is called “debugging,” while also sharing that it is a task that computer scientists must often undertake.

Both Mr. Garofola and Mr. DeBlasio noted that those students enrolled in the Digital Learning course had an easier time understanding the codes and, as a result, their characters had less difficulty advancing.

“If they took that course already, some of the kids are saying to themselves, ‘Oh, I know how to do this already,’” Mr. DeBlasio said.

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