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Madison educators ‘download’ facts on computers and children

Madison educators pursued professional development with code.org and learned about relating computer concepts to younger elementary students. (CONTRIBUTED)
Madison educators pursued professional development with code.org and learned about relating computer concepts to younger elementary students. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – A University of Alabama expert led Madison elementary teachers, media specialists and gifted specialists in ways to introduce computer science to children in early grades.

UA’s Dr. Jeff Gray guided the study for ‘code.org’ at Heritage Elementary School. Across the country, affiliates with code.org worked with children in grades K-5 to produce the workshop.

“The courses blend online, self-guided and self-paced tutorials with ‘unplugged’ activities that require no computer at all,” John Peck said. Peck works as public relations manager for Madison City Schools.

One participant, Katie Scruggs teaches fourth-grade math and science at Heritage. “We learned how the students can learn the basics of coding. We became the students by working through some of the puzzles, as well as learning new vocabulary,” Scruggs said.

Participants associated each coding concept to an idea or object with which the young students could identify.

For example, the Madison educators ‘taught’ colleagues about the term ‘function’ by associating it with the word ‘chorus.’ “‘Students’ could understand that a function is a piece of code that you can call over and over again, much like a song’s chorus,” Scruggs said.

They also discussed a “conditional,” a statement that runs only under certain conditions. They demonstrated a real-life circumstance: If students are quiet for 30 seconds now, they will receive the conditional reward of five extra minutes at recess.

“Looping is repeated instructions. To understand this concept, we danced, repeating certain actions each time,” Scruggs said. “Students can see that looping allows for repeated instructions.”

Their manuals have a lesson on “persistence technique,” or continually repeating an effort for a complex problem. “Throughout many puzzles, I was unsuccessful in my code, so I had to persist and try again until I saw success,” Scruggs said.

“The vocabulary becomes concrete because concepts are integrated into real-life experiences. The students can learn the basics of coding and have fun trying to code each puzzle,” Scruggs said.

“I definitely think students can understand these abstract concepts and even find it lots of fun,” she said.

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