Hour of Code

Sean C. Morgan

David Skeen and his mother Michelle Keene want to make sure no one else from Sweet Home has to start college with the same disadvantage Skeen did, so students at Holley Elementary School spent early this month joining the international Hour of Code.

Skeen, a 2013 Sweet Home High School graduate, went to Oregon State University to study computer science, Keene said. One of his first classes was coding.

He had never seen the material before, but other students in the class had been coding since first grade, said Keene, a media assistant at Holley.

Now a junior who’s interested in data security and web design, Skeen found the idea of computer science interesting, he said, but for someone from Sweet Home, it was like walking into a different country with a different language.

“A very large number of people had already done some computer science,” he said. “Very few people I met had no experience.”

So his mother went into action.

“This has become one of my passions,” Keene said. My child should not have been at a disadvantage because he went to Sweet Home.”

She doesn’t believe any child should and she made sure every Holley student participated in the school’s Hour of Code on Dec. 10, a worldwide one-hour introduction to computer science designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn to write the basics, according to the hour of code website. The program’s goal was to have tens of millions of students try an hour of code during the last week.

“They have created this cool website that allows kids to go on and learn basic coding commands,” Keane said.

All 145 students and five staff members participated. The third grade used Scratch to make a dog march around a Chromebook screen. Kindergarten students used iPads. Older students used Acer Chromebooks to manipulate the world of Star Wars using Minecraft.

Sweet Home Junior High Principal Colleen Henry joined teacher Kathi Collins in the third-grade classroom to teach the Hour of Code. She showed students how to program the dog to move around the screen. After successfully telling the dog how and where to move, Henry explained that code is like writing sentences.

“You just spoke your first sentence to the computer,” she said.

Principal Todd Barrett said the “whole goal was to expose kids to computer science. It’s so important for kids to learn computer programming and computer science. This is the wave of the future. We live in a digital age. Kids come from a digital environment.

““I thought it was a great way to get kids exposed,” he said.

Every student had access to a device “because of our awesome PTC (parent teacher club),” said Holley Secretary Cyndi Rinehart.

That was a project the PTC started with the fifth and sixth grades, eventually putting a device into every child’s hands.

The event was sort of a stress test for the school’s network, and it mostly worked. The event showed a need for more access to the wireless network on the third-grade end, the west end, of the building.

“I was very surprised,” Keene said. “I was very leery of doing it all at once. For me it was like, oh, gosh, we’re going to crash this network and they’re going to kill me.”

The district’s information technology staff told her it would hold up, though, Keene said, and she thanks each one – Sharon Conner, Nancy Brocard and Andy Busek.

The only other hiccup was with an introductory video that bogged down the network at the beginning, Keene said. Once everyone was hooked in, it worked just fine. That means state testing this year will not need to be staggered. All of the students can take it all at once, shortening the testing process at Holley.

In the fifth- and sixth-grade classroom, students manipulated “Star Wars” characters. As they succeeded at telling them what to do, they moved up a level.

“If you move up a level, you can make your droid do more things,” said Alex Kisselburgh, a sixth-grader.

The challenges become harder, said fifth-grader Brooke Burke as she took a break from a “Flappy Birds” project.

“You can create your own game,” Alex said.

“I really like how you can design your own game, create your own unique game,” Brooke said.

“I think it’s just kind of cool to be able to create something you want and make it do whatever you want it to do,” Alex said.

Alex thinks a computer career is worth thinking about, while Brooke plans to go into petroleum engineering or forestry engineering, but she thinks computers sound like a fun career.

She is part of the school’s brand new computer club.

Students in the fourth through sixth grade meet for computer club for an hour on Wednesdays, Keene said. The club has 24 members. The club is based on Google CS First, which provided headphones and curriculum.

The students use Scratch, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop their coding skills, Keene said. The program is self-guided.

“I really don’t know anything,” she said.