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Middle and High School Students Mark National Computer Science Week with An "Hour of Code"

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River Otters. National Computer Science Week. A new St. Louis aquarium. What do they all have in common?

If it’s hard to crack the code, you might want to talk with computer science students from both Brittany Woods Middle School and University City High School.

On Thursday, Dec. 5, about 50 students participated in “An Hour of Code,” an international movement to encourage youth to learn computer coding in advance of National Computer Science Week, Dec. 9 -13.

With help from Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership, the students and their computer science teachers gathered in the Pruitt library at University City High School to go inside the workings of a simple video game and control the outcome by coding a solution.

Each student was provided with a laptop and new headphones that they could keep. They were then given “An Otter of Coding” exercise in honor of the new St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station scheduled to open to the public on Dec. 25. The animated game required them to move a North American River Otter across a stream, but also ensure the otter didn’t eat all the fish in the water along the way.

The game speaks to the Northern American River Otter exhibit at the new aquarium, and the challenge of ensuring the species thrives in its habitat while also accounting for the fact the species is prone to eat all of the fish in a contained ecosystem. This is actually a real-world problem being dealt with as the species continues to repopulate the Midwest and devastate fish populations in smaller creeks and waterways.

The students were coached along the way, and, in the end, many of their otters made it close to the streambank without destroying their food source.

The event was STEM education at its finest, said Beverley Velloff, the District’s math and science curriculum coordinator.

“The Hour of Code enables hands-on computer science experience coupled with conversations among students at a variety of different grade levels,” she said.  “The younger students can inform the older students and vice versa. That’s really how ideas and creativity come together in science and math.”

The District offers considerable coding and computer science experiences for students of all ages in all schools. Currently, there are eight elementary teachers piloting computer science activities related to the science curricula being taught at the District’s four elementary schools.  Brittany Woods Middle School offers six computer science courses. University City High School offers three courses and will add another next year in partnership with the non-profit organization LaunchCode.

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