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Teaching the next Zuckerbergs

Fiona Mitchell, 10, a fourth grade student at W.W. Robinson Elementary School, performs a coding exercise in the school's computer lab as Valerie Fawley, the school's computer teacher, looks over her shoulder. Mitchell and her peers are part of the school's Coding Club. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Adriana Wilkins, 9, a third grade student at W.W. Robinson Elementary School, raises her hand for a question while working on her computer during the Coding Club after school activity at the school. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

WOODSTOCK -- One group of students is bringing a piece of the Silicon Valley to the Shenandoah Valley.

A new coding club that launched this year at W.W. Robinson Elementary not only teaches kids basic lessons in computer coding, but also in critical thinking and problem solving.

The club uses two free programs: Scratch, which is offered through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Code.org.

Ryan Lingle, assistant principal at the school, said the programs require students to recognize patterns and use variables to write simple lines of code. These codes translate to orders -- for example, 'rotate by 40 degrees' or 'move forward by 5 pixels' -- that kids can use to create their own artwork and complete challenges.

"We've told them stories about these tech entrepreneurs, the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world," he said. "And a lot of their backgrounds is that they found themselves wanting to be more challenged in school, so they taught themselves how to code at an early age."

These kids are being challenged, he said, and they're also having fun; it's like a game to them.

He said that eventually, as kids progress through the program, they start learning skills such as basic javascript. But he said these skills don't only apply to those who want to become web designers and developers, they can also be used in their coursework.

"We've become pretty good at developing users and consumers of technology, but we need to focus on developing creators of technology," he said.

The after-school club could not be more popular.

"We were hoping we could get 25 to fill up the class, and we ended up with 100," Lingle said.

Levi Kimble, 10, was stuck on a level that asked him to write code to draw a set of snowmen. He was successful in drawing the snowmen, but the program wanted him to use fewer steps to do it.

"I solved it, but it said I solved it wrong," he said.

Valerie Fawley is a computer teacher at the school and hosts the weekly coding club sessions in the computer lab. She said the program helps kids deal with frustration and persistence.

"It teaches them there's not only one right answer," she said. "There are multiple right answers."

The coding club meets each Monday after school and is open to third through fifth graders. Fawley said they plan to continue the coding club next year.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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