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Lower School Catches Coding Bug
Posted 01/25/2016 03:37PM

First Through Fifth Graders Among Millions of Students who Participated in Hour of Code and Learned Computer Science Staples

As 280 Rowland Hall Lower School students crafted beaded bracelets, created patterned designs, or maneuvered through mazes in early December, they also began to master the basics of computer science. Students used the concept of the binary numeral system to create the bracelets; the MIT-created program Scratch to animate sprites and create colorful geometric patterns; and the app Kodable to move furry aliens through the maze-covered planet Smeeborg (and learn about symbols, sequence, and loops). View the gallery here.

Rowland Hall educators led those activities and others for the Hour of Code, a global movement that aims to introduce students to computer science—one of the most in-demand college degrees, according to event founding organization Code.org. Utah, for one, is home to a huge tech industry: the 6,057 open computing jobs here amount to 3.2 times the state’s average demand rate.

Despite the demand to fill computer science jobs, fewer schools offer the subject now than a decade ago, Code.org reports. Here in Utah, Rowland Hall is one of just 13 schools that offered AP Computer Science in 2013-2014. Winged Lion leaders will continue to make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects a priority. The school hired Christian Waters as Rowland Hall’s first Director of Technology Integration in 2013. And the 2014 Strategic Plan set a primary goal of providing the Intermountain West’s most outstanding math and science program.

Rowland Hall dubbed its 2015 event the Week of Code, since each Lower School class participated in an hour of code at various times Dec 7-11. Waters called the week-long event a huge success, praising faculty and staff for their efforts that “helped illuminate the pleasure and importance of coding for our students and parents.”

“Learning to code not only prepares our students to shape the world of the future,” Waters said. “It also teaches them how to think quantitatively, which is a crucial math and science skill.”

Rowland Hall’s participation in the Hour of Code wasn’t just about exposing children to computer science, or encouraging them to pursue STEM career paths.

“Technology is such an integral part of kids’ day-to-day experience,” Rowland Hall Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus said. “Coding is a great way to understand how technology works while developing skills like creativity and collaboration—skills that are valuable whether you’re sitting in front of a screen or you’re out in the world.”

Waters added that he hopes to see Rowland Hall extend coding activities beyond the Hour of Code. Teachers could use the Blockly iPad app, for instance, to program spherical, cyclops-like robot toys named Dash and Dot already owned by the school. Plus, there are plenty of coding apps and websites classes can continue to explore, Waters said.

“In the words of Steve Jobs, learning how to code teaches you how to think,” the Director of Technology Integration said. “Logic, sequential reasoning, and math skills are all intrinsically linked to computer programming and we want our students to develop those skills.”

Week of Code

One October morning, students in Dr. Fiona Halloran's Advanced Topics US History class engaged in a lively debate about whether Thomas Jefferson or John Adams was the best candidate for president in the election of 1800. Scribbling notes and whispering—preparing their rebuttal while the other side spoke—students displayed passion, conviction, and fierce competitiveness about a contest decided over two centuries ago. After one young woman asked how John Adams could govern the country when he couldn't control his own party, the stunned silence in the room quickly dissolved into laughter. The students' enthusiasm was contagious, and as they dispersed after the bell rang, their energy remained high.
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Alumnus Nick Fontaine '17 learned skills as a senior in Alisa Poppen's AP Biology class that, a few months later, helped him research the rare and deadly ebola virus as an intern with the Kay Lab in the University of Utah's Department of Biochemistry. "It has been an amazing experience," the Rowmark Ski Academy postgraduate athlete said just halfway through his Kay Lab experience. "I've already learned so much about different research procedures and how professional labs operate."
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After several years of developing and championing computer science (CS) curriculum at Rowland Hall and serving as a regional leader in CS education, alumnus, faculty member, and self-proclaimed lifelong learner Ben Smith '89 in March won the Utah Coalition for Education Technology's (UCET) Outstanding Teacher of the Year award.
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