Hour of Code Event Engages Students in Problem Solving
Can you imagine the Gateway Arch if it were made of copper instead of stainless steel? Or if instead of an arch, the monument built on the St. Louis riverfront commemorating western expansion was of some other shape?
On Monday, Dec. 3, about 60 students from Brittany Woods Middle School and University City High School used computer coding to simulate both scenarios. In celebration of Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 3-9), U. City schools joined schools across the nation in various Hour of Code activities. St. Louis area students specifically tackled the Gateway Arch coding activity created by Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership, which serves as regional partner to Code.org. St. Louis Cardinals mascot, Fredbird, and the St. Louis Blues mascot, Louie, also made an appearance to add to the fun.
Jaime Gillian was a lead organizer of the event and is a Washington University computer science instructional specialist. Gillian started her career as a theology teacher at Ursuline Academy, but, recognizing the value of computer science, she taught herself to code and developed a curriculum for her school. Now, Gillian and her team provide professional development to other educators with no background in computer science.
“That’s why it’s vital to provide professional development to existing teachers,” Gillian says. “I hear from a lot of schools that they can’t find computer science teachers. My message is you just need a great teacher in math or science or social studies or any topic. They will be able to learn computer science with the right resources.”
Also participating in the event were three University City School District computer scientist teachers who have participated in the Code.org professional development program and now lead computer science classes.
Brittany Woods Middle School teacher Laura Thompson-Small is in her 25th year of teaching, and has been teaching computer science at Brittany Woods for six years. She says the search for engaging content in her seventh and eighth grade Computer Applications class is what led her to coding. She sees it as a way to teach students problem solving and expose them to a field they can grow into.
“I think it is important for students to know and work through problems,” Thompson-Small said. “Coding is just the catalyst we are using to help engage the students and introduce them to computer science. In my years of teaching computer science, I have seen the students respond more productively when working through the problem solving method.”
According to Code.org, Missouri currently has more than 10,000 open computing jobs. And yet, only one-third of Missouri high schools offers computer science. To address this crisis, Gov. Mike Parsons recently signed House Bill 3, which creates computer science curriculum standards and allows high school computer science credits to count towards required math, science or practical arts credits.
The bill is an important first step but does not address the profound shortage of computer science teachers. According to Code.org, universities in Missouri did not graduate a single new teacher prepared to teach computer science in 2016.
(Photos: Sid Hastings/Washington University)