Education

Powell Elementary students celebrate coding and ‘Star Wars’

Malachy Fernandez, a fourth-grader at Powell Elementary School in Raleigh, shows a classmate how to use a computer program he created to round numbers to the nearest ten, hundred or thousand.
Malachy Fernandez, a fourth-grader at Powell Elementary School in Raleigh, shows a classmate how to use a computer program he created to round numbers to the nearest ten, hundred or thousand. mhankerson@newsobserver.com

Third- and fourth-grade students at Powell Elementary School debated the best ways to create an Earth-like atmosphere in space, built computer programs to control Disney characters and made robots inspired by “Star Wars.”

Wednesday marked the Raleigh magnet school’s Hour of Code event, which coincided with the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The movie inspired some students’ projects, including third-graders’ original space station staffed by robots made from plastic building blocks.

Hour of Code is an international movement to encourage students to explore computer programming in all its forms. It’s typically held between Dec. 7-13.

This year’s event at Powell offered an early glimpse at the school’s new magnet theme, play-based learning, which will go into effect next year. Students found lots of examples of potential projects based on “Star Wars” characters, said Deb Bray, the school’s technology specialist.

On Wednesday, third-graders worked on building a space station where their robots will perform jobs like guarding the station and opening doors.

“We are trying to make it look like it came from ‘Star Wars,’ ” said third-grader Elliot Jannik, whose favorite character is Darth Vader. Elliot said she plans to see the new movie – if her dad will allow it.

Third-grader Nathan Hubbard, a self-proclaimed “really big fan of space,” is building his part of the space station using knowledge he’s gained from studying the topic at school and at home.

“It has to be really compact,” Nathan said of the space station. “There’s no room for stuff you don’t need.”

Classmate Markez Cofield said students weren’t allowed to create robots that perform violent functions, like some in the movie. But they were allowed to make a robot that destroys asteroids and might threaten the space station.

Fourth-graders built short computer programs to control “Star Wars”-themed robots, including one named Dark Side. They also showed off original programs they coded from scratch.

Malachy Fernandez taught some of his fellow fourth-graders how to use a program he built that will help them round large numbers. It’s one of about 300 computer programs he has created or started.

“I like seeing the final outcome,” Malachy said of computer programming. “But I don’t like to finish a project unless it’s good.”

Coding, making robots and working in teams will be part of the new play and ingenuity magnet theme at Powell, said Lisa Thompson, director of magnet themes and curriculum for Wake County schools. It will be the first program of its kind in Wake.

The activities encourage students to learn by interacting with the world around them, Thompson said.

Mechelle Hankerson: 919-829-4802, @mechelleh

  Comments