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Hour of Code Spreads Excitement about Digital Learning

The Pre-K students at Ephesus Elementary listened with enthralled focus as Tori Mazur, instructional technology facilitator, held up Cubetto, a screen-free coding toy that looks like a simple wooden block. Mazur told the children that they would be learning to program, and she described how each of them would learn to program a short journey for Cubetto across the illustrated floor map. Using colored coding pieces, Mazur showed them how to program Cubetto to move forward, left, right and backward. Gathered around the edges of the floor map, the children clapped and laughed as they watched Cubetto lurch in different directions toward its destination. “It’s moving like it’s supposed to,” one child said with wonder.

Since December 3, similar scenes have taken place in elementary classrooms across the district: children gathered in circles on the carpet, watching as teachers and technology facilitators modeled coding activities. Once the demonstrations were finished, children, in pairs and small groups, practiced new steps in programming with devices like Cubetto, BeeBot and Spheros. The level of joy and energy was high, and very few of the students even realized they were learning, instead of “just” having fun.

For six years and counting, students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have celebrated Hour of Code week, a global celebration in over 180 countries. Hour of Code occurs during Computer Science Education Week, in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906). According to the Hour of Code organization, “Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. It helps nurture problem-solving skills, logic and creativity. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any twenty-first century career path.”

Mazur and Cubetto with Pre K Many CHCCS elementary students spent the week learning and developing new skills in coding, beginning in Pre-K and kindergarten. The youngest children coded Cubetto robots, programming loops and other functions. Kindergarten students at Ephesus learned how to navigate Bee-Bots as they explored fundamentals of computational thinking. First graders at Morris Grove wrote stories about their Cubettos’ journeys on space, ocean and other landscape maps, and then programmed their robots to bring those stories to life. At Scroggs Elementary, fifth graders used Padlets to create Six Word Stories.

In a second grade class at Ephesus, Mazur showed students a brief PowerPoint on the basic elements of Cubelets, robot blocks that incorporate skills in robotics, coding, design, and engineering. There's no wrong way to build with Cubelets, and the variations lead to thousands of possible creations. Mazur asked small groups of students to take their Cubelets to tables and plan together to invent a piece of playground equipment (“make sure it’s safe and fun!”) As they experimented with the cubes, Mazur asked them to watch and see what robot behaviors emerged. Little hesitation among the students, and few hands were raised for teacher support-- the children seemed to be pros at robotics, even though this was the first time most of them had encountered Cubelets. Mazur said, “By second grade, since they’ve already been coding for two years, we want them to ask, ‘What can we build, once we know code?’”

Older students programmed Spheros, Ollies and Ozobot robots with the help of block coding apps on Chromebooks or iPads. They challenged themselves by coding digital characters with Block Island, Swift Playground and Foos courses. These apps and websites engage students in a scaffolded learning approach, where students go from basic coding skills to programming with advanced functions, events and multi-layered coding languages. On Code.org, students found plenty of opportunities for choice, exploring how to code a Dance Party, a Minecraft game and more.

Estes kids on Dance Party Gina Pace’s third graders at Estes Hills Elementary watched a quick video before they put on their (virtual) dancing shoes, chose a song on Dance Party and then programmed steps like Star, Dab, Body Roll and Floss until their new characters were showing off their moves to the delighted students. Debby Atwater, CHCCS director of digital learning and libraries, tweeted that students using Dance Party were able to “experience that as programmers, coding is fun, while they practice critical thinking, problem solving and persistence.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School students will continue coding through December and beyond!

CHCCS "Learn to Code"

Learn more about Hour of Code