This winter, the Pawling Elementary School and the Pawling Library teamed up to offer kids in kindergarten through fourth grade an opportunity to learn how to program computers and begin to create their own computer games. The classes, “Learn the Code” and “Cool Creative Coding,” are taught by the library’s children’s program director, Karen DeGennaro, and take place on Tuesdays in the Pawling Elementary School’s library.
In these computer-coding classes, students use both plugged and unplugged activities to begin to learn how to create their own games and stories. In the K-2 class, they work in pairs and learn how to drag & drop, program a character to move, create a logical sequence to reach a goal and more. The older students learn how to program characters to move through mazes, move an “artist” to draw pictures, and repeat commands to write efficient directions for their computers. Both groups are learning to use Blockly, a visual editor that lets them write programs by snapping blocks together. In these classes, children develop both computational and critical thinking skills and are learning how to create, not simply use, computer programs. Parent Yvette Rivera is “glad [her daughter] is being exposed to the world of computers from a ‘programming’ perspective and applauds the library for its “vested interest in stimulating, building and supplementing our children’s literacy, digital included.”
Over the past year, incorporating more science, technology, engineering and math into the library’s strong literacy programs for children has become a priority for DeGennaro. Many people have asked her, “Why teach computer coding to children in elementary school? Her response is clear. “Computers are a huge part of their lives. Children pick up technology and how to make it work very quickly. We can either allow them to play computer games written by others, or we can give them the language and tools they need to make computers do what they want them to do. By starting early, we have the opportunity to lay a strong foundation for computer literacy, while at the same time teaching some valuable life skills. Computer coding teaches children about problem solving, logic, perseverance and being creative. If they collaborate with others, they are improving their communication skills. Even if these children never decide to enter the computer field, they are walking away with some great skills.”
This is not the first time that PES and the library have collaborated on a project—Karen DeGennaro has been working with Dr. Kirkhus for the past few years on summer reading initiatives—but it is the first time that a program has taken place in the school. Dr. Kirkhus is “thrilled to collaborate this winter with the Pawling Public Library and Karen DeGennaro in offering afterschool computer coding classes at Pawling Elementary School. The children love Miss Karen, and her classes filled up quickly! Students have enjoyed learning the basics of computer coding in this fun, interactive, hands-on class.”
The programs and their new location has been a very positive experience for the students and their parents. Parent Maggie Hauser “appreciates the convenience of an educational afterschool program that her kids can attend with their classmates and have fun while learning computer code.” Another parent, Carolyn Walsh, feels the same. “Joslyn really enjoys staying after to do the coding program! The topics are high interest and engaging to all of the student participants. Having the program at the school makes the transition smooth and easy for the kids as well.”
The Pawling Library uses the Code.org curriculum to format the instruction for the classes. Launched in 2013, Code.org® is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color.