WSU teaching code to elementary students to fill coder pipeline
A three-unit curriculum teaching Scratch, an entry-level coding program, was developed by computer science major Zane Storlie to introduce elementary students to coding.
Scratch will allow students to create animations and games, as well as more advanced programs.
On April 28, up to 100 children who have learned Scratch will be invited to participate in a Scratch-a-Thon, where they will use their new skills to solve a series of coding challenges.
With job openings exceeding qualified applicants by a ratio of 10:1, Kansas employers have an urgent, unmet demand for employees with computer programming skills. In response, the Wichita State University College of Engineering is working to introduce children to coding early.
The past three years, WSU Engineering Summer Camps included camps that taught Scratch, an entry-level coding program developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology that allows children to create animations and games, as well as more advanced programs.
“We quickly found that after just a few hours of instruction on the first day of summer camp, young kids were going home, going online and spending hours teaching themselves more,” said Polly Basore Wenzl, K-12 outreach officer.
With this in mind, the college began offering Scratch instruction to elementary school classrooms during the school year. A three-unit curriculum was developed by Zane Storlie, a sophomore computer science major who trained other WSU engineering students how to teach Scratch.
The WSU students visited six classrooms during the fall semester and plan to visit another six this spring. Each class is visited once a week for an hour, for three consecutive weeks.
Wichita Public Schools participating during the 2017-18 academic year are Adams Elementary, Buckner Elementary, Caldwell Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, Kelly Elementary, Park Elementary, Price-Harris Elementary, Martin Elementary, Ortiz Elementary and William Allen White Elementary.
The results were tremendous with teachers reporting students exploring Scratch on their own, going home and teaching it to parents and siblings, and asking to code during recess.
“Scratch coding days have been wildly popular with our students,” said Lauree Moore, librarian at Wichita’s Adams Elementary, one of the first schools to host the WSU program. “The students in the group are so engaged and excited about creating new projects they tell other students about it, who then want to do Scratch as well. Scratch fever is spreading through the school.”
“One of my favorite things,” Storlie said, “is when the elementary students discover ways to solve a problem that I didn’t think of, or when they add new features to a Scratch project that I asked them to make. The kids usually aren’t afraid to ask hard questions either. They want to learn even the little intricacies and details that are commonly reserved for experienced adults.”
On April 28, up to 100 children who have learned Scratch through these classroom visits or WSU Engineering Summer Camps will be invited to participate in a Scratch-a-Thon, where they will use their new skills to solve a series of coding challenges. The free event, which will be held in the Experiential Engineering Building on the WSU Campus, will also offer elementary school teachers a chance to learn the three-unit curriculum so they can teach it at their schools.
“Teaching children to code is as important today as teaching handwriting once was,” Basore Wenzl said. “Scratch makes it easy to understand the basic concepts of computational thinking, which are foundational to understanding how computer code works.”
WSU College of Engineering has also partnered with the Girls Scouts of Kansas Heartland to help sponsor two Girls Who Code troops for 4th-8th graders. The WSU College of Engineering is hosting the troops by providing a computer lab in the Experiential Engineering Building as well as volunteers to help teach coding through its Service Learning class. The troops use the Girls Who Code programming curriculum and complete the Girl Scouts “Think Like a Programmer” journey, which includes an applied-learning service project.
“We are pleased to be able to lend to support to these efforts to encourage young girls – and all children – to become coders, because the need is so obvious,” said Jan Twomey, College of Engineering associate dean.