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Middle school students get jump on programming

When most of us think of computer programming, if we think about it at all, we envision a computer whiz spending mind-numbingly boring hours in front of a computer screen typing in code. However, this stereotype is becoming outdated as students at Sheridan County School District 1 are taking up computer programming in a fun and engaging way.

Starting this year, students at Big Horn and Tongue River middle schools, primarily seventh-graders, are using a new computer programming curriculum called Globaloria. The curriculum aims to teach every student the basics of computer program coding by allowing every student to create their own unique video game.

“When we look at class projects, I look at collaboration projects and tools to present information in new ways,” Tongue River Middle School technology teacher Michelle Nielsen said. “If you can take things they like, their digital devices, and bring it into other core areas, you may hook them faster than you might in a traditional way. I feel by having them involved in this class, they are problem solving, they are collaborating and they are learning transferable skills.”

Neilsen said the students started the new curriculum by creating a social media profile and having discussions on proper social media use, what is appropriate and inappropriate to post online and how to make constructive online comments about other students’ work.

The students then began work on creating their own computer game by writing computer code. They started with a pencil and paper conceptual drawing of a background scene they wanted for their game. They then had to learn how to write the codes that would dictate the colors, shapes, movement and sound that would appear on the screen.

And rather than simply a game for fun, the game had to use educational lessons in a subject matter of the student’s choice. They had to research the subject and incorporate facts or figures into the game. For instance, one student chose to focus on famous women in history and included educational lessons about several famous women into the game. Nielsen said other popular subject topics were geography, math and environmental science.

“The coding was really fun,” said student Theron Kalasinsky, in a YouTube video created by Neilsen. “I don’t remember how many lines of code, but it is pretty cool. It’s the experience of having your own game. I’m proud of mine and I know others who are extremely proud of theirs too. I just think it’s an overall great experience.”

“Globaloria has taught me a lot of things I had no idea how to do or I didn’t even know about,” student Macey Mcarthur added. “My favorite part was like taking an idea and changing it and making it real.”

Nielsen said like any other school subject, there were some challenges the students had to work through. However, it gave students a new appreciation and understanding of how computers and digital devices work and that understanding will be beneficial in almost any career the students later pursue.

“It’s the basis for so many career choices,” Nielsen said about why every student should receive at least some education on computer programming. “Not just the obvious ones. Even if you are into humanitarian efforts, you might be building a website and getting your ideas out there. You can find (computer) coding in absolutely every walk of life.”

Neilsen said in order to teach the program this year, she had to attend a week-long class in California and learn for herself how to write computer code and how to teach the curriculum to her students.

“It was an intense week,” she said. “We were brain dead by the time we were done each day. But it was great that the district sent us on that because we got to come back here and implement it. I think the beauty of this is that I am learning a lot beside them. When I can’t figure it out right away, we sit down together and use our resources.”

About

Christina Schmidt

Christina Schmidt has worked at The Sheridan Press since August 2012. She covers a variety of feature stories as well as stories related to local schools.

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