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Hour of Code to break the mold

Throughout the week, Mission CISD students click, click, clicked away on their computers for an hour at a time, creating games and practicing computer programming for the Hour of Code initiative.

The Hour of Code is a global campaign that aims to recruit 10 million students to try their hand at computer science. Coding is how computer software is created and designed. In October, Mission EDC partnered up with Sylvan Learning Center and Border Kids Code to form the program Code the Town where students and teachers learned game building and app development.

20141212 MCISD Hour-of-Code 5072All week campuses set aside time to participate in the Hour of Code in observation of Computer Science Education Week, which extends Dec. 8-14.

“The Hour of Coding is introducing the students how to give the computer commands so that they can come up with their own apps, their own ideas,” said Yonia Martinez, Alton Elementary librarian. “They can create anything they want. Instead of just playing with their phone they can create a program for their phone.

For the beginner levels, coding is taught in a game-like format. For example, students create a character and give the character commands by developing a code for the character to execute the demands.

“Even though you make a mistake, it helps you understand your mistake,” fifth-grader Kayla del Angel said. “It gives you little modifications for the future so that you won’t mess up again.”

But the teachers at Alton are promoting a future with coding, beyond the fun and games. Coding promotes interest in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

U.S. students are falling behind in STEM education compared to other nations. Some of the challenges include closing gender gaps, minority gaps and improving teacher preparation, according to the National Math and Science Initiative. Statistics show that, 44 percent of U.S. high school graduates were ready for college-level math and even fewer ready for college-level science in the year 2013.

“I tell the teachers to remind the students that they are the ones telling the computer what to do,” Martinez said. “They have to understand that so they can make a connection and understand like ‘I can do this later on in my job.’ So we’re trying to get them to understand that.”

Principal Adan Ramirez admitted that the students picked up the program faster than the adults, an aspect that is common when learning how to use a new tool, according to Code the Town partner Dalinda Gonzalez-Alcantar.

“Students are like sponges and they are also very curious by nature,” the code curriculum developer said. “Adults tend to have their reservations and not really wanting to completely explore the creative process and really that’s what coding is, where students are very free.”

In an effort to continue the Hour of Code initiative, Alton Elementary will be implementing a reward system for coding starting in January. The campus will set criteria for the students to meet and those who do will be awarded with an hour of code on Fridays.

“I don’t want it to be a one-time bandwagon type of program,” Principal Adan Ramirez said. “I want to make sure that we instill it and keep abreast of it throughout the semester and see what it brings next year.”

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