Code Week is a project to bring a coding and robotics experience to middle school students in the Holyoke Public School system. All seventh and eighth grade students in Holyoke have field trips to our classroom at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center.
During the week, 7th grade students build a robotic catapult that is launched by a motor triggered by a sensor, code games with Scratch, build a robotic car and program drive through along city streets, and create a mobile app. They also learn about the MGHPCC and the scientific research that it supports. 8th grade students build SumoBots which try to push their opponents out of the ring in a friendly, robotic competition. They also build a mobile app to control a rover, completing challenges on a space station.
One of the core ideas behind Holyoke Codes is that everyone should have the opportunity to learn about how computers work and how to control them with code. Code is everywhere as computers become ubiquitous in the modern world. By 2020, there will 1,000,000 more jobs in computer science than trained people making this an excellent opportunity for students to enter this high-paying field.
Perhaps not everyone will want to become a computer scientist, but we hope to show Holyoke students that there are many interesting, creative ways to work with code, robotics, and computers. Learning to program offers benefits for everyone: it enables students to express themselves more fully and creatively, helps them develop as logical thinkers, and gives them a connection to the technologies that they encounter in their lives and will empower them to be more active members of the 21st Century.
In our workshops, students use computational skills in engaging ways. An example of this is using math concepts such as coordinates, variables, angles, and random numbers in a meaningful and motivating context. When students learn about variables in traditional algebra classes, they often feel little connection to the concept. When they learn about variables using Scratch, they can use them immediately in meaningful ways: to control the speed of an animation or to keep track of the score in a game. Logical thinking skills and the design process are also a key part of the process.
Many students shine in ways they don’t necessarily expect:
Through the Coding Program this past week, my “under-achiever” students built and programmed robots, created a video game, and made an app for the tablets. They were engaged, creative, and logical. They used Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to reach the objective set before them. They showed their talent, their creativity, and their intelligence. And they were successful.
The kids were having an awesome time! It is so wonderful to see how programming shows the often unseen talents of our kids.
During Code Week, the students work with partners to develop their apps and build their robots. This “pair programming” mirrors a technique used by professional teams and provides a great way for the students to share their ideas and learn from each other. We are continually impressed by the teamwork and creativity of all of the students.
Project-based learning is an important part of our work at Holyoke Codes. We believe in creating opportunities for students to learn with projects that involve making things such as robots that can traverse an obstacle course or a designing a game that can be played on mobile devices. These hands-on activities are engaging to students with all different learning styles and backgrounds.