Chicagoland

Improving their futures by learning to code

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
January 10, 2018

Holy Angels students participate in Hour of Code

Students at Holy Angels School assembled, programmed and operated robots Dec. 8 as part of an "Hour of Code" national event during National Computer Science Week on Dec 4-10.
Eighth-grader Marlena Moore works on a robot with Aleksandra Kukielko from Illinois Institute of Technology’s STARS Computing Corps at Holy Angels School on Dec. 8 as part of an “Hour of Code” national event during National Computer Science Week Dec 4-10. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students at Holy Angels School assemble robots on Dec. 8 as part of an "Hour of Code" event during National Computer Science Week on Dec 4-10. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student at Holy Angels School assembles a robots on Dec. 8 as part of an "Hour of Code" event.(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Jarvis Smith, an eighth-grader at Holy Angels works with a mentor from the Illinois Institute of Illinois Technology STARS program. Students at Holy Angels School assembled and programmed robots on Dec. 8 as part of an "Hour of Code" event during National Computer Science Week on Dec 4-10. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students at Holy Angels School operate a robot they built on Dec. 8 as part of an "Hour of Code" national event during National Computer Science Week on Dec 4-10. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students at Holy Angels School operate a robot they built on Dec. 8 as part of an "Hour of Code" national event during National Computer Science Week on Dec 4-10. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For Holy Angels School Principal Sean Stallings, learning to code — to communicate with computers — isn’t optional.

“It’s the new literacy for these children,” Stallings said. “This is how they will communicate, this is how they will read, this is how they will work. This will be their livelihood, for some of them. So this early exposure is important. I wish we could do more of it.”

Holy Angels School, 750 E. 40th St., worked with the IIT STARS Computing Corps — a student volunteer group from the Illinois Institute of Technology — and Beyond the Cookie to turn the annual “Hour of Code” awareness event into something more like a day of code for students in fifth through eighth grade on Dec. 10.

Holy Angels was one of several Catholic schools that had students do coding activities during the week of Dec. 4-10. At St. Bruno School, 4839 S. Harding Ave., students devoted their regular computer class time to coding activities, said computer teacher Michelle Shinners, with different grade levels tackling different projects.

“It’s something we revisit throughout the year,” Shinners said.

At Holy Angels, students spent time in the gym, building Lego robots under the guidance of IIT students by following simple schematic drawings and then programing them to move. They also work on the school’s Chromebooks and their own phones and other devices with the help of guest David Hayes.

Stallings said Holy Angels would like to have enough laptops and Chromebooks to have one for each student. Right now there is one Chromebook for roughly every three students. The school also recently upgraded its wireless infrastructure so that students can use the devices with fewer hiccups.

Eighth-graders Autumn Bell and Gabrielle Carmichael sat on the floor of the gym early in the day, their Lego kit and instruction book spread out between them.
“It’s fun,” Autumn said. “But it’s challenging.”

“I like learning how to code,” Gabrielle said. “You’re in action, and you’re in charge.”

Across the room, students in groups of two and three conferred quietly, trying to figure out next steps or backtrack and fix mistakes. Hands went up to call IIT students over to help.

“I think we just found out we’re missing something,” eighth-grader Elijah Fields said, flipping the pages of the book back to find the step he and his partner, Chandler Culler, skipped. 

Chandler took a break and considered the project.

“I think it’s just for us to have fun,” he said.

Seventh-grader Artesiah Whitiker, who transferred to Holy Angels a few years ago, said her old school didn’t teach anything about coding, and she thinks all schools should.

“We’re going to need to know it to get jobs,” she said.

David Hayes, who was working with students on the Lightbot app on their Chromebooks in a classroom, agreed with her.

“Computer science is the fastest way for people to change their economic circumstances,” said Hayes, who teaches computer science at Lane Tech High School and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He began teaching after a career in software development.

That’s because computer science is involved in all areas of the economy, in all industries, and because there are plenty of free and low-cost resources for people to teach themselves the skills they need to get a job. But young people need to know the opportunities are there if they are going to take advantage of them, Hayes said.

In recent years, it has become possible to code on mobile devices, Hayes pointed out. “Every kid walks around with a computer in their pocket,” he said.

During the lesson, Hayes encouraged students to work together and learn from one another as they tried to figure out how to instruct a robot on their screen to make an increasingly complex series of movements.

Sixth-grader Aaniyah Stewart was having success, learning how to loop instructions to make the robot repeat steps, and then showing the student next to her.
Asked how she got there, she said, “If it doesn’t work, I try again.”

For more information, or for coding activities for kids, visit hourofcode.com.

Topics:

  • catholic schools

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