Youngsters Tackle Computer Science Skills, Learn About Career Opportunities
NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Fifty fifth graders from Carver Elementary School participated in computer coding activities and learned about computer science careers during their visit to Jefferson Lab on Dec. 12.
The activity was provided through the international Hour of Code project, which is helping to raise awareness about the need for digital literacy. Volunteers from Jefferson Lab’s Information Technology Division and Science Education staff joined forces to provide the students with an opportunity to experience basic computer programming.
“The purpose of the Hour of Code effort is to encourage students, their parents and their teachers to participate in and to learn more about computer programming and the many career opportunities in the field of computer science,” notes Education Administrator, Lisa Surles-Law.
The theme for the lab’s Hour of Code activity was Star Wars. The collaborative activity was presented in the format of creating a game. Working in groups, the students got to develop and test their coding skills by executing commands that were in the form of “drag and drop” blocks to construct the code and complete tasks on the screen. A familiar Star Wars figure was the focus of each puzzle.
“The students were so excited to spend the hour doing code. The game aspect was a real hit,” Surles-Law added. “Their school has incorporated some coding lessons into their technology resource classes, so the students were able to delve right in and make the most of the time given. They really enjoyed the time to just think and play.”
“It is important for students to see what goes into making computers interactive and how code is built to meet the needs of a program’s users,” she continued. “This activity also allows students to see how the skills they are learning and using now will be helpful in the future.”
The students used problem-solving skills, enhanced their technological skills and understanding, and interacted with staff members from Jefferson Lab’s Information Technology Division. Management Information Systems Manager, Kari Heffner, and Computer Scientist, Dana Cochran, volunteered to participate in the activity. They assisted with questions and shared how coding is used in their duties at the laboratory.
“I think exposing children to coding at an early age shows them possibilities for the future,” advances Cochran. “It shows them that coding is just building blocks of commands rather than seeing it as something that only ‘the smartest - or the nerdiest’ people can do. I really enjoyed the question and answer period; their inquisitiveness is inspiring.”
“The Hour of Code is great for so many reasons,” Heffner added. “Not only do the kids practice building on the fundamental technical skills that are needed for programming, but in the Jefferson Lab environment, they work in teams. So it really does mirror much of a software development atmosphere, where good communication and teamwork is as important as the actual writing of code. I was very impressed with the students' ability to work with each other and learn from each other.”
The Carver Elementary students, from Ms. Amanda Venable and Ms. Catina Billups’ classrooms, were at Jefferson Lab participating in the BEAMS program. BEAMS, or Becoming Enthusiastic About Math and Science, is the lab’s long-running, hands-on, activities-driven program for fifth and sixth graders.
This was the lab’s third year participating in the Hour of Code campaign. A coalition of technology leaders, businesses, organizations and academic institutions developed the Hour of Code campaign through a public nonprofit (Code.org), which is dedicated to “expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color.”