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‘Hour of Code’ teaches the basics of computer science

Powell Middle School awarded $10,000 toward technology

With the help of Angry Birds and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, local students recently learned more about computer programming.

As part of a worldwide “Hour of Code” campaign last month, hundreds of students at Powell High School and Powell Middle School used interactive lessons to better understand the basics of computer science.

Some students wrote lines of code for games like Angry Birds, giving specific directions to run a functioning program. Outside of computer labs, others learned the importance of being very precise by writing instructions for how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Teachers followed students’ instructions exactly as they were written, which sometimes ended in a mess.

Hour of Code activities take something kids are familiar with and encourage logical thinking, said Judith LaPlante, PHS technology teacher.

“Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once said, ‘I think everyone in this country should learn to program a computer ... because it teaches you how to think.’ I couldn’t agree more,” said Zachary Opps, middle school computer science teacher.

Around the globe, 15 million students participated in the first-ever Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 9-15. The campaign featured video tutorials by technology titans Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others. President Barack Obama also embraced the campaign and emphasized the importance of computer science.

“Don’t just buy a new video game — make one,” Obama said in a video. “Don’t just download the latest app — help design it. Don’t just play on your phone — program it.”

Hour of Code activities were also designed to generate interest in coding among students who may not normally consider a computer science class. Powell schools are among the 10 percent in America that teach computer science.

“PMS and PHS offer some of the best computer science courses in the state,” Opps said in an email. “The Hour of Code and similar activities will be a success if they encourage more students to take advantage of the valuable course offerings available to them.”

Through the campaign, Powell Middle School won $10,000 to use for computers or other technology. The prize went to one participating school in each state. Opps said the middle school hasn’t yet decided how to use the money.

Nearly every student at both schools participated in the Hour of Code. It gave them a valuable glimpse of the joy that can come from computer programming, Opps said.

“In the long run, we want students to have the opportunity to program so they can develop problem-solving ‘thinking’ skills — particularly breaking a problem down into manageable pieces, developing an algorithm or step-by-step solution to a problem, and diagnosing why a solution doesn’t work as expected,” Opps said.

He believes one of the best lessons computer programming offers is how to stick with something.

“No software is written in one step. Your first solution to a problem is rarely the best solution. Computer science offers students opportunities to mistake their way, repeatedly, into a beautiful solution,” Opps said. “Each time they try something and it fails, they inch closer to something that works. This perceived failure is very tough to handle at the beginning but helps students gain an invaluable life skill that extends well beyond the computer.”

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