An ‘Hour of Code’ at MPAC

New MHS coding class hosts special event this Wednesday

By Mike Douglas Marion School District

For those who know how to turn a computer on and off and nothing more, coding is simply telling a computer what to do, how to do it and to follow the steps an individual designs into a program, according to Sean Gray, computer coding teacher at Marion High School. And there are 20 students at the school who may be getting a leg up on their future careers. Essentials of Computer Programming is a brand new course to MHS offered to any 10th-12th grader, in accordance with a mandate from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. “The students have been learning about all aspects of computers; hardware, software, coding, programming, memory, copyright, intellectual property, etc. Students have been learning through a partnership with the Arkansas School of Math, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs,” Gray said. “Students regularly use a webcam application called Zoom to connect with co-teacher Daniel Moix in Hot Springs and are learning through a variety of methods including online instructional videos, in-class instruction and live Zoom sessions.” Gray said in the first quarter of the school year, students have built several mobile apps that can be used on phones or tablets. Some of the apps include a Tip Calculator, Feet to Yards Converter and even a restaurant menu ordering program. “Students have also created a few of their own original Apps including a snooze proof alarm clock, a step counter/timer, an anti-tardy countdown timer and a homework task list notebook among many others,” Gray said. “Students have been learning and working with block code, object-oriented code and Java. Students have also recently began using a coding ball called the Sphero which allows users to program a pathway and certain actions that the ball should take based on the code written by a student. Students can check their code simply by running the program for bluetooth enabled ball to see if the ball performs as the student intended!” To prepare himself to teach the class, Gray attended a week-long training session on the campus of ASMSA during the summer and learned all about computer programming and techniques/strategies to teach the new material to our students. “I am also working within a cohort of 16 others schools throughout the state. We have virtual meetings on a regular basis where we discuss progress, problems and ideas for future lessons,” Gray said. “We also stay up to date with a weekly electronic progress survey to ensure all schools are staying a similar pace.” Gray said the students really like the class. “It has challenged many of the students and requires a lot of problem solving,” Gray said. “The class provides students an opportunity to explore the possibilities of a career in Computer Science.  It also provides the students a foundation in coding and requires the students to use critical thinking and complex problem solving skills to develop solutions to necessary to build programs.” The state coding initiative has also garnered attention from “Wired” magazine, saying “Arkansas may be one of the last states that come to mind when you think of major hubs of tech talent. And yet… it became the first (state) to pass a truly comprehensive law requiring all public and charter high school to offer computer science courses to students, beating better knows tech centers like California and New York to the punch.” During his campaign for governor, Hutchinson vowed to get computer education into the state’s school, saying it would give the state a “generation of computer science-savvy graduates… and an unprecedented boost to the Arkansas economy in the years to come,” according to the magazine article. Arkansas budgeted $5 million to get the coding classes up and running in the state’s schools this fall. The funding includes teacher training and rewards for schools that have high performance and enrollment rates in the new courses. “Technology has become ingrained in every part of our lives now and it appears will only expand in the future. More than ever, students of today must develop not only a strong understanding of technology, but also how to manipulate it and use it to improve the world around them,” Gray said. “This class aims to teach students how to move from being a consumer of technology to being a designer and creator of technology.” To stir up future interest, the coding class will be hosting an “Hour of Code” through Code.org on Dec. 9 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., in the Marion Performing Arts Center. Gray said the “Hour” will be delivered using a game-like coding software and that more than 100,000 students worldwide will be participating in the event during that week. “We will be inviting all students in the Marion School District in the 8th grade or above to come and try an hour of code with us and see how fun programming can be,” Gray said. “Interested students need zero coding or programming experience, we just ask that they have an interest in computers.” Gray said there would be door prizes and refreshments for all participants. Sponsoring the event are Fenter Physical Therapy, Zaxby’s, Pizza Pro, Lil’ Sandwich Shoppe and Bakery, Funkee’s Café, Colton’s Steak House and Grill, and Lucky 13 Screen Printing.

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