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HT kids learn about coding
Jan. 30, 2017

By Starrla Cray
Associate Editor

WINSTED, MN – A new class at Holy Trinity Elementary School in Winsted is introducing students to digital technology – how it works, how to use it, and how its concepts apply to daily life.

“It’s getting them to connect that knowledge,” said teacher Derek Litzau, who has been leading the classes for grades 1-6.

At the beginning of the school year, Litzau introduced students to basic computer science, tailored to each grade level. Since December, the course has been focused on coding.

“Coding is a way of thinking,” Litzau said.

For lesson plans, videos, and activities, he uses Code.org, a non-profit website dedicated to expanding access to computer science.

“We get to learn coding, so we can put together games on Code.org,” Holy Trinity fifth-grader Owen Niesen said. “We put in the directions, and then we can play the game.”

Code.org offers tutorials and games for preschool through 12th grade. Some are performed on computers, iPads/iPhones, or other devices, and there are also activities that don’t require a screen.

Recently, Litzau’s class has been learning about algorithms. The dictionary definition of algorithm is “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.”

Not all algorithms need to be computerized, though.

In mid-January, Litzau’s fifth-grade class did a coding activity that involved making paper airplanes using an algorithm on paper. At the beginning of class, they watched a short video to deepen their understanding.

“Cookie recipes and directions for building a birdhouse are all everyday algorithms,” a student stated on the video.

Another example of an “unplugged” algorithm activity on Code.org is algorithmic doodle art. The description states, “draw an algorithmic doodle and explore algorithms for drawing nature.” The activity notes that scenery in films is often computer generated, and is created using algorithms.

For computer-based activities, first- through fifth-grade students at Holy Trinity use a computer lab, while sixth-graders use iPads provided by the school.

With the younger grades, Litzau uses Nearpod.com to help teach online safety, such as which websites are appropriate to use, and what kinds of things are OK to post on social media.

At Holy Trinity, the technology course has taken the place of keyboarding (typing) classes.

“We still do some keyboarding, but there are so many more skills that go into operating a computer than just keyboarding,” he said.

Earlier this year, students learned how to make presentations using PowerPoint or Google Slides.

“We get to learn what our parents learn in everyday life,” fifth-grader Anna Case-Knorr said.

Another student said he might be interested in a career making games someday, but “just learning how to code, that’s cool enough either way.”

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