- Associated Press - Monday, January 1, 2018

GIBSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - The “artist” - a tiny man with a giant pencil - needed to draw a stair step pattern.

So on her computer screen, fourth-grader Madison Kuehnel assembled colorful blocks with simple instructions on them into a set of directions for the virtual character.

“It’s really fun to code,” Madison said. “It’s just so cool to see that when you actually put something onto the play board that it actually moves. I just think it’s pretty extraordinary.”

Madison is part of the computer coding club that has been meeting at Gibsonville Elementary in Guilford County.

As Madison explained that she was about to try her solution for the challenge puzzle, the students sitting at computers nearby started cheering for her: “Go Maddy! Go Maddy!”

“Is it going to work, is it going to work? - It worked!” she called out in celebration.

Coding club is popular - 30 students take part, with five on a waiting list, said Stacy Pielow, the school’s library media specialist, who also is the club’s founder and organizer.

“Hopefully, they’ll have an excitement for coding and want to continue learning about it,” she said. “If they’ve got internet access, it’s something they can continue to do at home.”

She said that while the club is wrapping up for now, she and school leaders are looking into options to do more with it next semester. That could be sessions with fourth- and fifth-graders again, or with second- and third-graders.

Pielow said that for the last few years she’s run a popular computer club at the school. Then, around this time last year, she helped students participate in “Hour of Code” introductory coding activities during school, as part of the international celebration of computer science by the same name.

Principal Marcy Roan said around the same time, she read an article about the many job openings becoming available for people who can code. And she said she also heard Superintendent Sharon Contreras expressing an interest in having more students learn coding.

Seeing all that left her intrigued about what more the school could do.

She, Pielow, and some other educators met to discuss possibilities. Over the summer, Roan and some other teachers attended training on how to teach coding to students using free coding websites.

It was Pielow’s choice to make computer club into coding club.

She recommends the training for those who are unfamiliar, especially the code.org training. The most important thing though, she said, is finding time to work through the puzzles yourself so you will able to answer their questions.

“Doing that ahead of time helps me be able to support them when they run into problems,” she said.

She and Roan also both said the school could use more laptops or tablets for students to be able to work on coding during school. And Roan said Pielow could use some more help.

Pielow said they’d love people who use coding in their jobs to come and talk to the children about that. She said from what she understands, people in a variety of fields use coding sometimes.

“You don’t just have to be in a technology field to have some coding involved,” she said.

During a recent club meeting, students worked on codes for a variety of puzzles. Some learned about loops, or sections of code that allow a computer to repeat an action.

Others learned about debugging. That’s looking at a section of code to see where there may be errors keeping the computer from doing the right thing.

“I really wanted to explore more on coding and like, discover another world,” fourth-grader Elizabeth Merlette said. “It’s kind of like another world, the computer world. I wanted a more different challenge than what we were doing in class.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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