It once was that schools provide their students with the basics of education — reading, writing and arithmetic. Now, a new basic has been added — computer coding.

Second-graders at Wilmington’s elementary school are writing computer codes that make their animated characters chomp on food and gulp drinks.

Third-graders think they are playing games but are really learning the basics of coding. After Christmas they will be writing computer programs to create Lego robots and move them around.

All of this is part of the district’s new partnership with Code To The Future, the nation’s leader in Computer Science Immersion schools. Code To The Future is a comprehensive computer science immersion program that integrates computer science into all subjects. This technique helps students learn how to use coding to enhance problem-solving techniques

Allison Ciavarino, computer science tech coach and fourth grade social studies teacher, said the district launched a computer science immersion program this fall for students of kindergartners through students of grade four.

Through the program, she said, students are learning the fundamentals of computer coding as a part of their daily curriculum. All Wilmington students in grade two to 12 are provided with Chromebooks. Students in kindergarten and first grade are issued iPads.

“They do it every day. The teachers make weekly assignments to help the students to learn, and we work it into the lessons wherever we can,” Ciavarino said. “We try to work in 80 to 100 minutes of hands-on coding per week. The kids love it and they’re learning a lot every day.”

The 21st century digital literacy, which helps students to learn logic as well as to develop critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration skills, Ciavarino said.

She said the program began Sept. 5 with students in grades two to four being introduced to the games and puzzles of Scratch. This programming language and online community allows youngsters to create interactive stories, games and animations. Teachers began training for the program prior to the start of the school year.

“Scratch is the first cycle,” Ciavarino said. “After Christmas break the older children will create robots with Legos and write code to move them around.”

She said the boxes for the robots have arrived and the students are excited about the opportunities they see for January.

Also after the Christmas break, Ciavarino said, students in Kindergarten and first grade will begin the Scratch Jr. coding program. 

Ciavarino said she believes that the Wilmington Area School District is the second in the state to adopt the computer immersion program. The Canon-McMillan School District was the first school in Pennsylvania to adopt Code to the Future, and was designated as a Computer Science Immersion Lighthouse District, serving as a model for other districts to incorporate the program, she said.

“This is a great opportunity for our students as they face the challenges of the future,” said Dr. Jeffrey Matty, district superintendent. The curriculum will cost the district about $40,000 per year over the next five years.

“This is an investment that we are making in the future of our students,” he said. “When you look at what they will need for the future, how important it will be to know coding, computer science is a core class.”

Matty said the program will continue as the students learn more.

“That is hard because most teachers are not trained in computer sciences and they will have to keep up with the program,” he said adding, “Our elementary teachers do a good job

Currently, he said, the district offers computer science programs on the high school level through the University of Pittsburgh, taught by local teachers. Students are required to take a half credit in computer science or engineering in order to graduate. 

“We offer web design and other computer science classes, but what we’ve begun on the elementary level this year goes beyond that,” he said.

Matty added that the Code to the Future program “chose us” for the program. “We are a Google School,” he said. “That is in recognition of the amount of technology we use in education.”

Through the partnership with Code To The Future, he said, teachers will be able to engage students in new and creative ways with block-based coding, text-based coding, and robotics. Students will learn to apply logic, problem solving, team building, and presentation skills as they collaborate and share their thinking process with peers.

The district will continue to offer the same level of instruction in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, music, art, library and physical education, he said. “Coding is now an exciting, integrated enhancement to the excellent education students already receive.”

“The partnership is designed to open up new academic and career pathways for students,” said Andrew Svehaug, CEO of Code To The Future. “Computer science education can equip students with important technical skills to benefit local industries, such as agriculture, and provide access to the high-demand jobs of the future.” 

Ciavarino said the district will expand the program to include fifth grade students next year.

“The students will be learning so much. We want to continue this through the middle school and go on from there.”

Parents interested in learning more about the new Computer Science Immersion program can contact Ciavarino at (724) 656-8866 ext. 6545.

nlowry@ncnewsonline.com

Reporter

Nancy Lowry is a reporter at the New Castle News. Email her at nlowry@ncnewsonline.com

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