By MELISSA HAMBRICK
Williamson County students and students from all over the world this week have been celebrating the 112th birthday of a woman they may not have ever heard of, but who influences their daily lives and might even shape their futures.
Computer Science Education Week is held annually in recognition of the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, an American mathematician and rear admiral in the U.S. Navy who was a pioneer in developing computer technology.
While her early efforts in computing helped to devise UNIVAC 1, the first commercial electronic computer, Hopper also gave us an everyday computer term, used by even
the least technologically savvy. When a moth infiltrated the circuits of the Mark 1 –the first large-scale automatic calculator and precursor to electronic computers –she coined the term “bug” to refer to unexplained computer failures.
Students have been celebrating the week by engaging in a global movement known as Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to computer science and computer programming to broaden participation in the field. The event is a worldwide effort, with more than 200,000 educators and 400 partners taking part, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the College Board. Tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries will participate this year.
Williamson County Schools have participated in Hour of Code for the past five years. Activities vary by school, and are part of the school system’s commitment to coding, computational thinking, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education.
“It is vital to involve students at coding at a young age because coding is part of computational thinking and creative problem solving,” says Matt Hollowell, Curriculum Specialist for Instructional Technology for Williamson County Schools. “Coding is the basis for problem-solving, it is the hidden language behind the computer that responds to your key command or the reason why the machine moved the arm from left to right. It is vital to provide young learners with opportunities to code, problem solve, and create solutions.”
The week looked like this in some of Williamson County Schools’ elementary classrooms:
- Many fourth and fifth graders were participating in a Probot car challenge, which is physical coding using a programmable car. To complete the challenge, students read a real-world explanation of lengths, measurements, and turns, to calculate the probot code for the probot.
- Sheri Keel’s fourth-grade class at Fairview Elementary were to code Ozobots, pocket-sized robots, to write stories. She and her students, along with their Librarian, Lauren Tortorelli, and Computer Teacher Assistant Pam Best, worked to create ozobot story maps that support their digital stories.
- Some third-grade students planned to code probots to help reduce flooding. Mark Bailey’s third-grade class at Fairview Elementary has been examining the effects of flooding around the school. The students have been challenged with finding ways to prevent flooding and erosion by mapping erosion-stopping shapes on a map.
Hollowell uses what many might consider an unusual term when he talks about coding, programming, and STEM education in the classrooms: “empathy.”
“Teachers are using empathy for the community to captivate students’ interest during a design challenge,” he says. “The goal is to link coding and technology skills from kindergarten to graduation. Students are receiving early exposure to empathy-based STEM challenges that prepare them for middle and high school, as well as a glimpse at future jobs that are relatable to their community and lives.”
Potential employers are counting on it, including Amazon, which is slated to bring approximately 5,000 jobs to the Nashville area. In a pitch to the company from the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Williamson County Schools were touted as a top spot for technology education in K-12 public schools, highlighting its “computational thinking curriculum throughout all grade levels.”
Williamson County Schools are establishing a path for STEM education year-round, from elementary through to high school, as part of the district’s six-year strategic plan. This plan includes two elementary schools piloting a STEM initiative, as well as the system’s first STEM building, now under construction in Brentwood and slated for completion in February 2019.
All of Williamson County Schools’ elementary schools have a technology teacher assistant, who teaches technology, computational thinking, and digital citizenships. Some classes are taught stand-alone in a scheduled rotation, while at other schools they may be infused alongside core classes. In addition, several schools offer coding clubs before school, and many elementary schools host math or STEM nights, where students and families can experience coding programs and exercises.
At the high school level, the system has increased the number of technology classes, and offers new opportunities that include a Mechatronics program of study which allows students to graduate from high school with an associate degree. Williamson County high schools also offer programs of study in STEM Research, Engineering, Coding, Networking Systems, Unmanned Aerial Systems, and Autonomous Vehicles.
While Hour of Code in schools is one way that young people will be introduced to coding and new technology, there are other opportunities to expand their interest.
Apple, one of the Hour of Code partners, will be hosting free coding sessions at their Cool Springs Galleria location during the first two weeks of December. Ages 6 to 12 will code with robots, while attendees ages 12 and up with use the educational app Swift Playgrounds to learn coding basics. Prior registration is required at their website.
Code Ninjas Franklin opened in October, with coding courses, summer and holiday camps offered at their new location at 1113 Murfreesboro Road. Designed for children ages 7 to 14, the franchise is one of 312 centers in 34 states, dedicated to helping students learn and apply coding skills using an engaging, game-based curriculum.
This summer, STEM and coding camps will be available through a number of schools and organizations.
The Nashville Technology Council’s We Build Tech Summer Camps are available in both Williamson and Davidson counties. Summer camp registration is not yet available, but interested parents can find out more at https://technologycouncil.com.
Vanderbilt University is the local host for iD Tech Camps and Academies, for students age 7 through 18. Registration for 2019 summer camps is now open at https://www.idtech.com/locations/tennessee-summer-camps/vanderbilt-university.