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The secret code of computer games

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When middle school students pull up a game on their phones or on the computer, whether it’s Candy Crush or Angry Birds, they’re typically only concerned with beating the game. 

Students at Woodbury Middle School, however, are starting to see the work that goes into creating the games, not just the work it is to play the game.

Last week, students in Linda Pederson’s computer applications class spent class time learning how to code as part of Code.org’s Hour of Code initiative.

“They can start to see all the code that goes on behind the scenes to make that happen,” Pederson said. “It’s really just about having appreciation for when they’re playing a game and for all the technology around us nowadays.”

Hour of Code is a national event sponsored by the nonprofit organization Code.org that asks students across the county to spend at least one hour coding.

“Just getting students exposed to coding is huge,” WMS media specialist Michelle Simons said.

Coding in school

Coding generally entails programming a computer to perform specific commands.

The goal of Code.org is to teach students the basics of coding all the way up through advanced coding opportunities.

Coding lessons are geared towards anyone as young as 4 years old all the way up to seniors.

“It reaches all levels,” Simons said. “It really suits their capabilities.”

Some of coding opportunities on Code.org include programming Elsa from “Frozen” to ice skate; creating a snowflake or other animated images; A “Star Wars” coding tutorial that lets programmers create moving storm troopers; application development; Javascript writing; HTML writing; and coding for such games as Angry Birds and Minecraft.

“It helps their creativity, it involves math skills, it’s problem solving,” Simons said. “It hits so many different avenues.

“Students truly have to think differently.”

Simons and Pederson agree that they have seen students picking up coding relatively quickly. In fact, they have been enjoying it.

“The kids get really excited about it” Simons said. “It seems like a game, but guess what you’re learning math, you’re learning creativity, you’re learning problem solving, you’re learning modular thinking.

“It’s sort of like putting cheese on top of broccoli so it tastes better, it’s showing students that they don’t have to be afraid of coding.”

Having students start to code early is of great benefit to students, Pederson said, because it helps them find their interests.

“The neat thing about starting this at the middle school level is that when they get up to the high school level they can really figure out what road they want to go down,” she said.

Coding outside of class

WMS is starting to really put an emphasis on coding, specifically coding opportunities, since it will not only be launching an after school coding club, but also a coding-specific advisory.

The new coding club, which will start after winter break, will allow students to work on coding projects after school side-by-side with peers who share their interests.

“These kids are really into coding and they’re already choosing to do this in their freetime,” Simons said. “We thought wouldn’t it be nice for them to have the time to do it and work with other kids.”

Simons said the collaboration is a big piece of why she and Pederson started the coding club

“They could theoretically do it at home, but it’s nice to have a place where they can work together,” Simons said. “They can bounce ideas off each other and interact.”

Another opportunity for students who are interested in coding is the future coding advisory that WMS will be launching in the next couple months.

At WMS students are allowed choice advisory, where they can speak with advisors about subjects areas they are interested in.

Pederson said the school decided to offer a coding advisory since more and more students are having an interest in it.

“We saw a lot of students who wanted to take it to the next level and go even more in depth with it,” she said, “so we can help them take it to the next level and show them advanced coding that can’t always be done in class.”

Simons and Pederson said they can only see coding, and other computer skills, lessons only continuing to grow in the schools.

“Computers are here to stay and technology is on the rise,” Simons said, “so it’s important to develop those skills and prepare our kids for their future careers.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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