The cheer that went up when computer consultant David Hellen told the assembled students at Bluejacket-Flint Elementary School he had helped to build Microsoft’s Xbox video gaming system was even larger than when he announced the school had won a $10,000 prize to create a “maker space.”
Whatever it takes to get kids interested in learning to create computer code, he said.
“In today’s workforce, computer skills are important,” said Hellen, who is managing director of the Kansas City office of Accenture, the world’s largest consulting firm. “Tomorrow, it will be imperative.”
The all-school assembly on Monday was part of a global initiative called “Hour of Code,” which attempts to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. The campaign’s goal is for tens of millions of students to try an Hour of Code during Dec. 7-13, in celebration of Computer Science Education Week.
One school in each state was to be awarded a $10,000 prize, courtesy of Hour of Code organizer Code.org and its partners like Accenture, to be used for hardware, and Bluejacket-Flint in Shawnee won the prize for Kansas. Instructional Coach Michelle Brown made the application and accepted the oversized check from Hellen.
The assembly kicked off a week of activities at Bluejacket-Flint designed to coincide with the Hour of Code and Computer Science Education Week.
After Hellen’s check presentation, three students gathered around a table at the front of the gymnasium with Shawnee Mission School District Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Southwick to show him their original work coding a video game that featured animated T. Rex dinosaurs catching and eating triceratopses. The lines of code and the resulting game were projected onto a screen for everyone to see.
Hellen talked about how he learned to write computer code as a young man and the joy he felt when he learned to make the colors of the American flag light up on his screen. That skill, he said, “has taken me across the country and around the world.”
He said he especially wanted to interest girls in coding, as they are underrepresented in the field today.
“It’s so important at the ages you are,” Hellen said. “Grades one to five are the age where the gap begins in terms of interest in technology, so we are trying to drive that up.”
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christy Ziegler also spoke at the assembly and said the benefits of the Hour of Code would spill over into other areas of learning.
“The teachers see the benefit,” Ziegler said. “The students are really engaged. You can tell the kids like it a little bit. They absolutely see the relevance. It’s a good way to apply the skills they are learning in early math and reading. It all ties in to what we hope to achieve with our curriculum.”
The $10,000 prize will be spent to create a maker space “devoted to STEM” —Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — at Bluejacket-Flint, Principal Kevin Frick said. Students will be able to work there on coding, among other things. He said he would appoint a committee of students, parents, teachers and administrators to plan how to spend the money and create the space.
Frick said he hoped to have some of the equipment in place by the end of the school year for the benefit of current sixth-graders. Then, he said, “we’ll spend time over the summer trying to create a real-world work atmosphere” with furnishings in the space. Hellen invited the planners to visit his office for ideas.