Nine-year-old Jetari Veal holds his hand up for help as he sits in front of a computer in a large gray, orange and blue classroom with four other students at Westlake Porter Public Library. He has a problem: He’s already finished the first exercise in the class — creating a scene on his computer by coding it — and wants another challenge.
Sssshhhh: Don’t tell Jetari that this class is actually learning. He’s having fun. And for students in grades K-4 like Jetari, Code Club could be the key to their future.
“There’s so many job opportunities in the future that you have to start at younger ages to keep up with,” said Jennifer Norton the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) librarian who also runs the code club. “Coding has become so prevalent in different jobs, but computer usage in general is required by nearly every job now, so the more computer skills you can build is an extremely useful skill to have.”
The program, offered every Thursday, teaches students to create video games and apps. It is offered through a program called Google CS First and Scratch, and includes programs designed to show coding through using block coding. Students drag and drop bits of code into a sequence to make a simple game or app.
For students with more advanced coding skills, there is also an option to learn HTML script through Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization created in 2008 to provide online tools to educate students.
“The curriculum is tailored toward this age group,” said CJ Lynce, the assistant library director. “There’s a lot more graphical interaction, fundamental interaction to teach you these things. It ties in with STEAM and making the creative atmosphere we’re trying to promote.”
The hour-long class also fosters critical-thinking skills through videos provided by Google CS First and activities like making a character dance.
“I think it’s fun and you get to learn how to type,” said Lexi Brown, 9, who has been taking the class for six months. “You can make animals talk and I think it’s fun to go through them and find the different things you can make.”
“I had one student take a picture of himself and upload it into the computer and create an avatar of himself and make himself dance in the program,” Norton said. “It’s really incredible to me what these kids can come up with that I didn’t teach, and that Google didn’t teach, but through experimenting they can learn.”
This is leaps and bounds from when Norton and Lynce had to learn coding themselves. Norton recalls learning how to code through programming TI-83 calculators. Lynce learned how to code through reading books and trial and error through entering code on the computer.
“I was educated as a programmer.” Lynce said. “I didn’t start learning how to program until I was almost 19. To see them at 8, 9 and 10 doing some of these programs that would challenge me, it’s really awesome to see them younger and younger learning this skill set.”
For parents, the program provides the perfect opportunity for their kids to learn about the video games and apps they use every day.
“My son is a big video gamer and he loves electronic things and figuring out new problems to solve, so I thought it would be a great fit for him to expand his knowledge on how computers work,” said Antia Veal, Jetari’s mother. “It gets him off of (the game) ‘Fortnite’ for a few seconds too, so learning how to make ‘Fortnite’ and not play it is a huge bonus.”
Registration for each class opens a week before and averages nine students. The wait list fills up quickly. To help, the library is adding an extra class on Monday for grades four through eight in the coming weeks.
At the end of every class, Norton lets the students show what they’ve made in class that day.
“We’re the informal education center of the community,” Lynce said. “We wanted to offer an opportunity for kids to come in and learn how to code, which is all a part of our mission for education and the creative atmosphere we want to promote.”
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