Students at Waupaca Middle School are getting an idea of what it takes to be a computer programmer.
February is the Month of Code at the school, and every middle school student is getting to spend two hours in the computer lab this month participating in it.
“They’re not all going to be programmers,” Joan Holman says of the project.
Holman is the middle school’s technology integrator, a position she moved into during the 2012-13 school year, after being the computer teacher at the school.
Of the Month of Code, she said there are two goals.
One of them is for students to realize that regardless of their future careers, technology will be a part of it, Holman said.
The other goal is to help students see that when they encounter coding, it does not mean they necessarily have to write it but can tweak it, she said.
Holman got the idea to do the Month of Code after learning about the non profit Code.org and its introduction to computer science through an Hour of Code.
She decided to do a month of it with the students.
In the computer lab, students learn how to write code for games. They may also work on it at home.
“It actually gets challenging pretty quickly,” Holman said.
Fifth-grade teacher Tricia Deuman said the experience teaches students how to problem solve.
As the students get to higher levels of programming, it requires a higher level of thinking.
Hunter Swartwout is a student in her class, and he said while it is sometimes hard to do, it is fun.
“Some famous people write code, like the creator of Facebook,” he said.
Holman said the students must be proficient and efficient before moving to a higher level.
Students are being encouraged to work on it anytime and everywhere.
“Before school, after school and at lunch the library (lab) is full,” she said. “I think they get it, the importance of technology in their lives.”
Prior to teaching the students how to code, the staff was given the opportunity to learn as well.
Some of the teachers are quite competitive and are among those who have done the most lines of code, Holman said.
In addition, Jim Lemke is coding this month with the fourth graders at Waupaca Learning Center.
The Month of Code is just one way technology is being incorporated into the classroom.
“The school district is a Google Apps for Education School,” Holman said. “All students have email accounts. Many of the teachers are running their classes digitally,”
The middle school has three computer labs and about 240 Chromebooks.
Middle School Principal Ben Rayome said before Holman moved into her current position, she taught computers to each grade level. Each grade had the class for one quarter of the school year.
Now, she is able to work with all the students throughout the school year.
“The more Joan is in their classrooms, the more demand there is for her,” he said. “She’s passionate about technology and wants to share it with the kids and the staff.”
Holman said computer science is being called a foundational knowledge students need to know.
The students in this generation are called digital natives, they said.
“It doesn’t mean they know everything,” Rayome said. “They catch on quicker. They’re more likely to tinker, but they don’t know more than anyone else.”
Holman said there are six qualified applicants for every 10 programming jobs.
As a result, some employers offer various perks, including massages, ice cream bars and music rooms, Rayome said.
Holman said there are companies in Wisconsin who need programmers.
“Before this, I was not aware of how much of a need there was for programmers. It’s so much more than it ever was. The biggest part is the awareness it brings to students, teachers, parents,” Rayome said of the Month of Code and other computer science lessons taking place at the middle school.
Students are learning what it means to be a programmer and also that it can be fun, he said.
“The kids are interested in this stuff,” Rayome said.
Computer science is used in a variety of careers. That includes developing mobile communications in information technology, designing simulations to improve products, analyzing data to predict trends in retail and designing new special effects for movies.
The problem solving skills students learn in the computer lab may be taken to their other classes.
Holman said the number of lines students and staff code are tracked on a daily basis.
There are leader boards for each grade and house.
The district’s Technology Committee continues to develop a vision and plan for how the district will move forward in the future, she said.
“Technology is just a tool,” Holman said. “Ben has been very supportive of all the teaching in the school.”