When sixth-grader Jaleah Moore logs in for a session in Google’s CS First program, it gives her a true appreciation for the animated programs she sees on TV.
She and other Zebulon Boys & Girls Club members watched tutorials on the CS First website Thursday, then used the Scratch block coding program to make their commands come to life on computer screens.
Moore altered a backdrop, changed the facial expressions of a character and then added words to create her own storyline. She likes how the program enables her to be creative and do her own thing.
“If I want to grow up and do programming or make video games, stuff like that, I’ll already know what I’m doing,” Moore said.
The Zebulon club members were among youth nationwide participating in the Hour of Code as part of Computer Science Education Week, held Dec. 5-11.
Plenty of benefits
The coding experience builds self-esteem and teaches problem solving, among other things some of the kids don’t notice in the moment.
“They don’t realize it, but they’re learning about coordinates, they’re learning about negative and positive impacts of doing things,” said Morgan Staton, an AmeriCorps VISTA member implementing the CS First program at Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County. “I think the biggest thing it teaches the kids is perseverance, because there’s 50 different ways to achieve one goal in computer science.
“Another big thing about CS First is leadership skills. When you show a kid how to do it once, they’re more than willing to show their friends, as well. That just builds up their confidence, not only in computer science but in computer literacy.”
While older club members worked in CS First, younger members spent time on code.org, where activities are themed after popular video games and the experience itself is more like a game.
The second annual coding week came with special offerings in both programs – a “The Amazing World of Gumball” CS First theme enabling students to make their own episode of the Cartoon Network show, and a pair of new “Minecraft” tutorials on code.org.
AmeriCorps VISTA members rolled out CS First programs at the clubs and some area schools last year. Staton said their work is designed to be fully implemented over a three-year period, establishing a presence in the first year and then adding opportunities and building program sustainability.
Staton, who began the second wave of CS First sessions over the summer, has plans to extend coding opportunities to more than just the club members. She wants to hold a coding party in Zebulon in January to get parents and surrounding communities involved.
“Until parents see it, they don’t know what you’re talking about,” Staton said. “It’s something to get everyone excited about.”
She’s also looking for volunteers, who she will train, to help keep the area coding programs alive after her year of service comes to an end next June.
“People are familiar with Boys & Girls Clubs,” Staton said. “Sometimes they’ll come here for a reading program, which is amazing. If you happen to be interested in something like this, you just need to know it’s an option and that you can do it without having that (computer science) background. It’s would be unfair to introduce the kids to it and not have someone here on a regular basis to encourage them or at least recognize them.”
Staton said she recently taught her father, who is 73 and lives in Zebulon, how to use one of the programs.
“He is the definition of ‘You can teach an old dog new tricks,’” Staton said.
Anyone interested in volunteering with the coding programs at Wake Boys & Girls Clubs can email Staton at firstname.lastname@example.org.