BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Clapping frogs, bending bears and dabbing aliens took over Elena Boyle’s Waterville classroom last week, as her fourth-graders embarked on an Hour of Code.
An international program to introduce computer science to all skill levels, the program organized by the nonprofit Code.org encourages teachers to set aside one hour during the week of December 4-10 to focus on teaching coding and artificial intelligence in a way that students can understand.
“What are examples of coding or AI that we use?” Boyle asked her students.
Video games, Google slides, ordering off of Amazon and even the date and time on a phone’s home screen all utilize coding.
“If you have a smart device like Siri or Alexa, how does she know what to say back to you? She is coded to understand a command or a question and then to give you an appropriate response. That’s AI. You know Alexa is not a real person. Except for our Alexa,” she laughed, nodding to student Alexa Mangas.
On the Code.org website, the students embarked on creating their own dance parties, following simple directions and prompts to drag and drop lines of code to determine their animal of choice, music, background, pattern and dance moves.
Alexa the student programmed her dance party with a moose swaying to the song “Dance Monkey.” While she enjoyed the coding project, Alexa said she can’t foresee a career as a coder. The animal-lover would rather be a veterinarian when she grows up.
“I like coding because it’s not just making the animals dance,” said Madelyn Richardson. “You can add things and listen to the music. It’s a bunch of different options. Coding is in a lot of things you do, so practicing coding could be really important in the future.”
Calli Speaks chose a corgi, Eloise Wohlfarth a moose, Remi Sniadecki a bear, and Violet Cannon both a bear and frogs. Many of the girls, including Aubree Myerholtz, opted for the song “Cupid” by K-pop group Fifty-Fifty as their background music.
Most of the students are already experienced at using coding, going to the Code.org website during their free time. Camila Quinelato-Aschenbach made a moose with pink antlers, and the end result was different than what she expected. She wasn’t surprised, though.
“Sometimes at home if I have free time, I go on Code (the website) and do a little bit – sometimes there are things that are hard for me so I have to figure it out,” Camila said.
Joey Pitzen was giggling as he tested out different options and watched the results.
“I don’t normally do much coding,” he said.
Yulii Abramenko has plenty of experience on the Code.org website, and it was evident as he quickly infused his dance video with several characters, including a moose, corgi, bear, alien, shark and robot, doing a clap and the dab dance move to “I Like to Move It,” a song by Real 2 Reel, as well as other tunes.
“I made it so that every music track has a different background,” Yulii said.
The program is easy enough for students to figure out on their own, but sometimes they can run into snags and have to overcome their frustration and follow hints on the screen to correct it, Boyle explained.
“This is a good example of how AI and coding go together, and we can use it for fun stuff and cool stuff,” Boyle told her students. “Even though in the world today there is bad and harmful stuff – AI can be used to lie and spread mistruths – today we can use it for good.”
Every classroom, even kindergartners, set aside one hour last week to participate in the Hour of Code, but computer science education is woven into classroom sessions throughout the year.