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Class preps students for high-tech future

Coding offered at the middle school

HOWLAND — For the second year in a row, Howland Middle School is adding to its computer class options.

With the help of code.org, the middle school is offering two coding classes for eighth-grade students. For the 2019-20 school year, Howland is adding Computer Discoveries 2. This past year, eighth-grade Howland Middle School computer science teacher Eric Olsen taught Computer Discoveries 1.

“This class helps students with basic skills of problem solving, perseverance, sequencing and logic. So it helps in all of those fields, but it is also expanding their minds as far as what they think they can do in the future,” Olsen said.

In part one, Olsen teaches students logic, sequencing, problem solving and the coding languages of html, CSS and JavaScript, with students designing their own websites and video games for assignments. Computer Discoveries 2 is the next progression, with Olsen teaching students app design, data collection, circuit board wiring and user experience, asking them to complete assignments such as designing apps and creating wearables.

Code.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to computer classes in schools and increasing the participation of women and underrepresented groups in the computer science fields. Started in 2013 with companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, the Infosys Foundation and Microsoft, among others, donating to the organization, code.org creates free curriculum for students. The lessons are created by coding professionals with courses tailored to students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. Code.org also offers training for teachers to help bring these lessons into classrooms.

The classes are teaching students coding skills, which Olsen said have been linked to improving creativity and problem solving. And with the growth of computer sciences and technology, the Howland School Districts hopes to better prepare students for their futures.

“The school district knows the world is changing and the job opportunities are changing, and the school district is adding coding classes to better prepare students for those opportunities,” said Kate Keller, public and community relations coordinator for Howland Local School District.

Olsen learned about code.org while at the 2018 Ohio Educational Technology Conference, where a number of technology teachers recommended the program. Last summer, he took a five-day class where he learned about the program and how to implement it into a class. Olsen also took four weekend sessions throughout the year to expand on the five-day course.

“I really enjoyed this class. I think it’s really fun because coding allows you to create whatever you want, whatever you imagine. You can just have fun with it,” said Jake Starkey 14, who took Computer Science Discoveries 1 this past spring, while in eighth grade at Howland Middle School.

Computer Science Discoveries 1 and Computer Science Discoveries 2 were created from code.org’s six- part computer science discoveries course. Sections one through three will be offered in both the fall and spring semesters as Computer Science Discoveries 1, while Computer Science Discoveries 2 — covering sections four through six — only will be offered in the spring for students who completed part one.

“I went in to do this class because it will probably help my career field. I’m going into general engineering and it’s probably going help with everything, like programming machinery that needs to be programmed,” said Tyler Short, 14, who took part one this past spring while in eighth-grade at Howland Middle School.

Once in high school, students have the opportunity to continue to study coding, and Olsen said he hopes his class will prepare and inspire students to do so.

Courtney Clark, 14, also took part one this past spring and said her parents are amazed and interested with the course and all the skills she’s learning form it.

“It’s really interesting to me. It really opened my mind to do things that I never thought I could do. So, it’s been a new opportunity for me,” Clark said.