Kristie Leiner’s third-grade classroom worked with fervor on a math lesson Wednesday, but to an outside visitor, it might have looked like fun with video games.
“I’m working on ‘Flappy Bird,’” said third-grader Tegan Nakamura, who was enjoying the “Hour of Coding” program at Bridgeport Elementary over her regular math coursework “because it’s more fun.”
And that’s the idea.
Statistics indicate female students like Tegan are exposed to coding at school, then they’re 10 percent more likely to go into it in college, said Kathleen Perdisatt, a technology teacher for Saugus Union who teaches the projects like this and other related curriculum throughout the elementary school district.
She also mentioned the high percentage of jobs available for graduates in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, while noting only a fraction of college students graduate with degrees in those fields.
“We’re trying to kind of bridge that gap,” she said.
On its website, the “Hour of Code” touts itself as, “a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event.” And the lessons are geared toward teaching those without any experience coding, which is ideal for a classroom setting.
Wednesday’s lesson plan gave them a less traditional, more hands on approach to working with numbers, said the school’s principal.
“I think it allows them to really think conceptually and really have that mathematical mind,” said Carin Fractor, principal of Bridgeport, as the students worked on creating levels on their screens for “Minecraft,” “Flappy Bird” or any number of other puzzle options.
Each student worked with their own Chromebook and math skills on the specially engineered software by Code.org, in support of the learning initiative, to make things happen on the screen and achieve their different “levels,” which didn’t give students the impression it was a lesson plan.
The idea is not only for them to have fun while learning, but to create access and familiarity where it may not have existed before.
Mike Leathers, the school district’s director of IT, knows all too well the importance of the exposure to technology in the classroom.
While a junior at Hart High School, a long-since-cancelled TV show, “The Greatest American Hero,” stopped by to use the campus’ classrooms. The producers of the show made a deal with school administrators and bought the school computers, the first one Leathers had ever used.
“And I learned how to code,” said Leathers, who was a programmer by trade before coming to the district. “I took to it instantaneously. The thing I loved about coding is I knew right away if I had gotten it right or not — because either the program worked, or it didn’t.”
“I’ve had a lot of fun over the last four years bringing the technology up to where we could have something like this right now — the large flatpanels, the Chromebooks, the WiFi connection,” he said, pointing to the flashing screens and intent faces.
“Measure EE has been my best friend,” he said, referring to the bond that helped the district pay for much of the equipment. “The parents and the residents of the Saugus (Union School District) have been very generous with that, and these are just some of the benefits we’re seeing.”