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Cracking code

November 29, 2018

DEADWOOD — They seem very young to use such language, but beginning this year, Lead-Deadwood Middle School students have been afforded the chance to learn the language of computer programming, in effect, cracking code.

“Coding is one of those things that is really taking off and our kids really should be learning how to do this,” said Wendy Schamber, Lead-Deadwood Middle School math instructor, in her address to the Lead-Deadwood school board Nov. 12.

An all-expenses-paid trip to Arizona this summer for three middle school teachers, courtesy of Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by underrepresented groups including women and minorities, was the key to cracking code.

“We spent a week learning different things about the processing and how to teach the coding and what the coding was, and all sorts of things that we would need to implement this into our school,” Schamber said. “We have used math enrichment, which is a nine-week course that every student takes, so they’re all getting exposure to some coding. As we get going, it will be a little bit more than just the first couple of units within the program. But for this first year, we did decide that everybody in the middle school would do the first two units, just to get an introduction to that and we put a plan together to implement the next units throughout the program in seventh and eighth grade, further down the road, so they will be able to continue to build after this year.”

Schamber was joined on the summer’s code mission by fellow math instructors who also sang the praises of bringing a formalized computer science program for middle school students to the district.

“It fits in really great with our math enrichment program, because the very first unit you do is almost completely an unplugged unit. You’re not even on your computer at all and it really deals with just the problem-solving process and the problem-solving process is good for anything, whether you’re working a math problem, whether you’re dealing with life problems, or whether you’re trying to work on coding a computer,” said sixth-grade math instructor Becky Kosters. “The other thing that just really struck me when we went to our training in Phoenix, was how many people have been successful through learning coding, regardless of their socio-economic background, regardless if they’re a boy or girl, regardless of anything that might hold them back in some professions. It’s really being seen across the country and across the world as an opportunity for anyone. So that really appealed to me, for our kids, here, that we can really be giving them some skills and interest to build on for their future.”

Seventh-grade math instructor Sam Grant said what she took away from the training is that these types of jobs are the jobs of the future.

“So now we’re inspiring students and telling them these are jobs, dreams that you can have, things you can add to your list of what you want to be when you grow up,” Grant said. “So I have really seen that with my students. They’re very excited about these opportunities.”

Three students joined staff members in their presentation of the coding process to the board.

“At the beginning of math enrichment, we were told to make up an app with a partner,” said seventh-grader Sierra Kilander. “Basically what we decided to do was a helping app, where if you’re a teenager and you’re looking to make money, you could go on to the app and help elder people or people who are physically unable to do chores or you’re just too lazy to do chores, in order to do them.”

“After we got done doing that, so, we, moved on to our computers,” continued seventh-grade student Myka Fitzgerald. “And we were learning about html and all the coding, we were learning a new language that the computer can actually understand, so then, we were going through all the lessons and on html there was the paragraph, we were learning how to do different fonts, adding in different pictures, and telling about a different web or something.”

“When we got further into coding, we started doing background colors and we started doing font colors, paragraph colors, borderlines for the pictures. You could basically put most colors on anything you want on your website,” said eighth-grader Ivy Endres. “So, basically, what happened during then is our web page started getting more ‘out there,’ where it’s not just white, black, grey, whatever, you actually have color, where people will become more ‘into it,’ basically.”

All of the aforementioned resulted in web pages done by students, using their creativity and reflecting their passions and interests.

“They did have some requirements that they had to do,” Schamber said. “They had to do paragraphs and lists and things like that. They had all sorts of different components that they had to be able to do.”

And the variations were intriguing.

“My web page was about sports quotes, which could be funny, motivational and inspiring,” Endres said. “I had different sports, like basketball, track, cross country, because cross country isn’t like a big sport, so I decided to do that because one of my best friends is actually in it and she’s not that happy that it’s not a very well-known sport, so I wanted to put something in there for her … there’s actually a few you might find that might help get you into it, maybe. I decided to show what people say about the kind of sport, either motivational or inspiring or funny, it could be anything that they say if you want people to get into it.”

And the results were no less than amazing.

“It’s impressive to me that they’re building those web pages from scratch,” Schamber said. “I mean, they’re writing their own coding for that, they’re using their own cascading style sheets, they’re using everything that they have learned and prior to this summer, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I mean, I didn’t have had a clue how to make that work. So, it’s really awesome to me to see these guys doing that and getting their hands wet.”

Endres expressed interest in where she would like to take her coding skills in the future.

“First of all, I always wanted to do coding, but I never thought I was good at it,” she said. “So I just kind of shut that down. But now I want to go into it even more. Because it’s going to be a future thing and we’re going to need coders and app programmers to make more things, so it would be helpful for the future with coding.”

The coding program implemented this year does have the ability to continue on into high school level, so the students can actually build projects they dream up.

“It can be where they get circuit boards and they actually create the app that they thought of,” Grant said. “They can learn how to turn things on or off through the circuit board.”

School board member Suzanne Rogers asked the students if coding was difficult to do or if it was fun.

“At first, it was really hard, but once you understood it, it got more easy, then,” Sierra said.

“I think it’s just like anything else,” said Lead-Deadwood Middle School principal Jay Beagle. “It’s up some kids’ alley, not much for others, but we’re finding that the numbers of students that are really, really interested in it, they’re just rolling with it and it’s really exciting to see that they have an interest like that and can see some connections to the future.”

School board member Tim Madsen said he likes how students can explore coding in this fashion at a young age and then have the possibility to explore further options in high school.

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