Michigan Teacher Helps Young Students Learn to Code

Working with students as young as first grade, Nancy VanEenenaam, a technology education teacher at Holland Township’s Eagle Crest Charter Academy, helps children through the beginning stages of coding.

by Mitchell Boatman, Holland Sentinel / December 18, 2019
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(TNS) — As technology continues to change and evolve, so do the ways students use it to learn. Computer science and coding are becoming more and more important in various industries and a focus in schools.

At Eagle Crest Charter Academy, technology education teacher Nancy VanEenenaam teaches students as young as first grade the beginning stages of how to code.

VanEenenaam's classes participated in Hour of Code, an initiative by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org, from Dec. 9-15, but coding isn't a one week project.

"We do it year-round," VanEenenaam said. "We do a program called Scratch. Coding is now part of my standards, my curriculum. You can integrate it into math and science. (The kids) are problem solving, that's what this is all about."

VanEenenaam has students create games and stories using blocks of codes, which help student progress to input true code with Python or Javascript.

"They start out with this block programming where it's more simple," she said. "Gradually they can progress to actual coding. If they started out making them learn Python or Javascript, they would all say 'No thanks, this is too hard.'"

Instead, students get excited to work with code and "seem to love it," according to their teacher. Students use programs that involve characters from movies such as "Frozen," "Star Wars" and more.

Other programs let students create their own stories and characters. VanEenenaam showed one that featured a character venturing to save a princess.

"They have to focus it on a moral focus trait, to keep them focused on something, a goal," she said. "This is all the code that she created. It's quite extensive. Each character has their own code. You have to code it so it all fits together."

Another option is to code games, which VanEenenaam has students tie into stories.

"I tell them that if they're making a game, which is simple, that they have to incorporate it into a story," she said. "It's not easy, it's not like they're going and playing video games. They have to create the game first to play it."

The students work at their own pace, testing their abilities and advancing through more challenging activities. VanEenenaam said that teaching students to code at a young age is beneficial for their future, no matter what industry they go into.

"It doesn't matter what field you're in," she said. "If you're a builder, you're in health care, you're running a small business, it doesn't matter. You will have to have coding to run your business and you have to hire people to do that."

©2019 Holland Sentinel, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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