Programs teach computer skills
By Angie Landsverk
Crystal Vida is getting students excited about technology.
She is the technology instructor at Waupaca Learning Center (WLC) and teaches the school’s third and fourth graders, as well as fifth-grade students at Waupaca Middle School.
In addition, Vida is in charge of the new Makerspace at WLC.
A Makerspace is an area that encourages hands-on and self-directed learning.
These types of spaces are becoming popular in schools and in public libraries.
“If they like computer programming, they need to keep pursuing it and getting opportunities, so in the future, if they want to be a computer programmer, they will be,” Vida said of her message to students.
Before becoming the technology instructor at WLC in the 2015-16 school year, she taught fourth and fifth grade at a private school in Wisconsin Rapids.
Prior to that, she worked at Renaissance Learning.
“I knew I really liked the training aspect,” Vida said. “I knew this job would definitely have that.”
When she began teaching at WLC, the school did not yet have a Makerspace.
Waupaca Middle School’s new Makerspace opened in the school’s library in October 2015.
“We just had two rows of computers,” Vida said of WLC’s space.
She sought about $2,400 from the school’s Parent-Teacher Group and successfully wrote a grant for $24,000 worth of Cisco products to begin creating a Makerspace at WLC.
Halfway through the 2015-16 school year, Vida began crafting what would be best.
“Most places don’t have computer spaces or computer teachers anymore,” she said of schools.
This is at a time when statistics show that by 2020, there will be more computing jobs than people trained to fill them.
“So few girls are going into the field,” Vida said.
Her husband is a computer programmer at Sentry Insurance and works with few women, she said.
“I just don’t see a lot of people going into computer science,” Vida said.
Through Hour of Code, an annual nationwide event, students are being exposed to coding.
Students in the Waupaca School District participate in it every year.
“A year ago, they learned how to figure out how to do spatial learning, moving little characters on a computer screen,” Vida said.
It involved problem solving and critical thinking, she said.
“I don’t allow them to ask for help until they ask three other classmates first,” Vida said.
This year, students again participated in the Hour of Code.
“We also did robotics and Osmo coding. We spent about four weeks on it,” Vida said.
WLC’s Makerspace is full of technology for students to use, including the Osmo Coding Kit, which students were already familiar with using at the Waupaca Area Public Library, she said.
Vida said Waupaca’s public library is “way ahead” of others in regard to its technology.
“We have such a supportive community here. They’re all about giving,” she said. “It’s nice to have somewhere to offer this stuff to our kids.”
At WLC, students are visiting the Makerspace before school and during recess.
Vida created a schedule for the grades and classes and plans to start a coding club next semester.
“There’s just something for everybody,” she said. “Most kids who come in want to do the robots.”
Fourth grader David Trzebiatowski describes the space as “awesome.”
His classmate, Tyler Smidt, said, “When we come in here, we can grab toys and just play with them.”
Vida said this is a rural area, and with WLC and the middle school both having Makerspaces, she believes the school district is ahead of others.
As the parent of an 18-month-old, she thinks about what she wants for her son when he starts school.
The youngest students at WLC are doing some work on computers.
For some students, coding is a way to find something they are good at, she said.
“The fourth graders are at the same skill level as the fifth graders, because we started from scratch last year,” Vida said. “The third graders have come a long way.”
She tells the students about the need for people with computer skills.
“The more that we can expose them to a wide range of technologies, the better off they’ll be,” Vida said.