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Photo by Jane Utecht: Hour of Code
Photo by Jane Utecht: DSU student Erin Ryan answers a question for Lilley Wittmer (left) while Bailey Gonyo watches. An Hour of Code is an international program to promote computer science education, part of Computer Science Week.

Students enjoy ‘An Hour of Code’

Academics, Admissions, College of Education

Featured in Madison Daily Leader, Tuesday, December 16, 2014; by Jane Utecht

The 3 Rs of education -- reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic -- are fast on their way to being joined by a "C" for computer coding.

Along with those three historic basics of education, coding is important.

"Code powers everything," said Dakota State University elementary education major Jailyn Hemmer.

Because of that predominance in society, Robin Schwebach, Madison Elementary School computer instructor, said that "getting kids to understand they can be more than users of computers" is important. Kids also need to know they can "[tell] computers what to do."

To teach that "C" component, DSU elementary education students went to MES for one hour on Friday to jointly participate in an Hour of Code, a worldwide program which promotes computer science curriculum in schools.

The DSU teachers in training taught the fourth-graders for one hour, helping them successfully program either an Angry Birds game or a game to move a character around the iPad screen.

The DSU students had developed the lessons and spent time practicing it as well, said DSU Instructor of Education Kevin Smith. The time with the MES students was part of the DSU students' final exam.

The goal of an Hour of Code, said Smith, was "just to get kids to do one hour of coding" so they may "learn the basics of computer programming."

Students worked with Blockly, what its website calls a "web-based visual programming editor." Blockly is based on JAVA script, Smith said. It uses blocks that look like dialogue bubbles which stack together. The blocks contain different commands, such as "Turn right 90 degrees" or "Move forward by 100 steps."

Once the blocks are stacked, the students can hit the "Run" button and the iPad game will do what the blocks tell it to do. Students can also touch the "Show Code" button to see what the commands look like in the actual programming language.

The Hour of Code program is being run "all over the world," Hemmer said.

Smith added that 70 million students will be participating this year. For the Madison students to know "they are a part of it is pretty cool," Hemmer said.

However, the young students seemed impressed just with what was going on at their own desks. Fourth-grader Brycelyn Wolff said the lesson was "fun."

After getting his game programmed, Wyatt Hopkins said, "It's so easy! This is the best thing ever!"

RJ Cook was able to get a monkey to run a spiral; he decided to repeat the action. "I made the monkey run a spiral and run another spiral" over and over, he said. Watching the program run with his commands was so much fun that he giggled.

MES Principal Janel Guse was happy with the experience, saying the program is "good for their brains" by getting the students to think logically and apply it. "Now we can carry it further in classes."

"This is big," Schwebach said. "In the near future we want to do [coding] K-5."

She said that coding can be done "unplugged," which means without a computer. Coding is also something that students can do at home, either online or with offline apps. Tynker.com has a variety of programs that coordinate with the Hour of Code program.

But to get the students started, "We're lucky to have DSU," Guse said. "It's a good partnership."

Smith agreed, saying the collaboration is very good.

"It's awesome to work with the school," and "great that they're supportive of this," he said.