Franklin Elementary School fifth graders Xavion Body, Brody Stokes, front, Bryant Jennings and Donquavius Bankhead, back, look on as the robots, called Finches, perform commands the students programmed them to do in Franklin's auditorium Friday morning. Students from the Golden Triangle Coding Academy visited each elementary school in the Columbus Municipal School District last week teaching fifth grade students the basics of computer coding. Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff
March 9, 2019 10:03:08 PM
Friday morning the auditorium at Franklin Elementary School was filled with the chatter of students -- and the buzzing of robots those students helped program.
Quinn Richardson, an eight-month student of the Golden Triangle Coding Academy, stood at the head of a "maze" -- laid out with tape on the auditorium floor -- as a group of fifth graders fanned out beside him. Some of them had their attention focused on a remote control in Richardson's hand. Others were looking at a small round robot at the start of the maze.
The fifth graders had programmed the robot to move in a certain direction depending on which key on the remote control Richardson tapped, with the ultimate goal being that the remote control could direct the robot through the maze.
The ball rolled to the end of the first stretch of the maze, made a sharp left and then continued on, always turning left or right in the nick of time until it reached the end of the tape.
"That's it, y'all made it through the maze," Richardson told the students, giving them all double high-fives. "Y'all are programmers. ... That's pretty cool, right?"
It was the last day of "coding week," during which Richardson and other students from the Coding Academy had been in and out of Columbus Municipal School District elementary schools, teaching fifth graders the basics of computer coding. CMSD hosted a similar week for second graders in November.
The 'language of the 21st century'
The Golden Triangle Coding Academy is an 11-month program that teaches coding and other technological skills to high school graduates. The academy's director Sarah Lee and instructor Angela Bluitt worked with CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat to have those student coders go into CMSD's elementary schools to teach kids how to program robots -- and hopefully spark an interest in computer coding and other STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills, said CMSD coding and STEM intern Jessika Hayes, who helped organize the coding weeks.
"(We're explaining to the students) how to write programs and give robots instructions, why we have to give them instructions, what languages they understand and how easy it is to program them," said Hayes, who is also a student at the Coding Academy.
The students use block coding -- a coding language already written -- to write directions for the robots, programming them to move in different directions or to flash different color lights depending on the commands.
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said the coding weeks, apart from being a great partnership between the school district and the Coding Academy, will encourage young children to think about whether they're interested in science and technology fields and particularly whether they might be interested in coding, which she called the "language of the 21st Century." The earlier they're introduced to STEM fields, the more likely they are to be confident they can be successful in those fields, she said.
"It's important that they get exposed to STEM-related fields at an early age," she said. "...The exposure early on will lead to them having high self-advocacy as it relates to technology and science."
The robots used in the coding weeks were purchased with $4,000 in donations from Columbus Light and Water earlier this year, Labat previously told The Dispatch, and will help teachers implement coding curricula in the classrooms.
'Space for another programmer'
Hayes and Coding Academy student Kevin Aiken said they had positive responses from most of the elementary students.
"They get really excited," Aiken said. "There's a lot of different angles we come at it from. Some kids are interested in the color mixing, some kids are interested in making it drive."
And still some of the fifth graders are interested in the code itself.
"Some of them get it really fast," he said. "I'm surprised. I'm learning more about the program to show them extra stuff."
He said it opens their eyes to a new field they haven't been exposed to.
"In our introduction, we talk about apps and games and that someone has to code those or has to develop those," Aiken said. "Kids have asked us if we programmed Fortnite (a video game) or things like that. I'm like, 'No, but someone did.'"
"I just want to spark that fire inside of them that makes them ask more questions, get involved and want to pursue this as a career," she said. "The tech field is one of the most lucrative fields there is and there's always space for another programmer.
"Just plant a seed, and as long as we have programs like this going on, we'll water that seed," she added.
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