Bradford School administrator teaches the language of code

Bradford School administrator teaches the language of code


WESTERLY — It took an Hour of Code to get Lisa Connelly hooked on computer programming — some 35 years after she took a course on the subject in college.

Her hope is to inspire some of the district’s youngest students to begin exploring the programming field.

“In my preparation for facilitating Hour of Code, I began doing the coding activities that the students were going to be challenged with,” said Connelly, Bradford School’s curriculum leader and coordinator for the Hour of Code, “and found myself wanting to keep going.”

For a week in December, the nationwide Hour of Code initiative introduced computer programming to millions of students. In Westerly, it sparked teachers to take on the coding cause, too.

Sharon Ficarra, the K through 12 STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) coordinator for Westerly Public Schools, is Rhode Island’s National Code affiliate. She runs free professional-development workshops for teachers so they can learn the skills to teach the computer-science curriculum to students.

She trains Westerly teachers and will be training other educators throughout the region.

“It is important for teachers to take advantage of this opportunity to help them see firsthand that coding can be for everyone,” Ficarra said. “All students will have an equal playing field when it comes to access and exposure to programming and thinking skills. Teachers learn the language and computational thinking behind the games that students will play and solve.

“Teachers can then help give purpose and transparency to how to solve the games and program the activities.”

So far, 10 educators at Bradford School, including Connelly, have taken Ficarra’s training, and 17 educators from Dunns Corners School are registered to take the class this month.

Sessions will be offered to educators at State Street and Springbrook schools this month and February, and grades five and six teachers at Westerly Middle School will have the opportunity for training from March through June.

“The enthusiasm of our students made me want to take the course,” Connelly said, “so I could continue learning and promote this learning amongst our teachers and students.”

The training couldn’t have come at a better time., the nonprofit that facilitates Hour of Code, is pushing districts to make coding accessible to all students and computer programming a part of the core curriculum alongside other science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses.

Alicia Storey, Westerly’s assistant superintendent, said programming opportunities are expanding at every school.

“At the middle school, the goal is to incorporate an interdisciplinary approach using programming-simulation design,” Storey said. “At WHS, we are looking to increase and extend programming opportunities by increasing offerings in the program of studies.”

Storey said at the elementary level, teachers will engage students in computational thinking by embedding coding into the curriculum. Offering the coding classes to teachers, she said, is the first step.

“The more the teachers know about coding the greater the implementation and opportunity for coding and computational thinking across disciplines for students,” Storey said. “It is the language of the future.”

The Hour of Code, both last year and this year, was a catalyst, officials said, for students and teachers to become aware of coding.

“It is easy and fun,” Storey said. “Anyone can code.”

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