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MES principal starts coding club, students program video games

Staff writer

Back in the days of early pixilated video game systems, homework was something kids were supposed to do before rotting their brains with mindless entertainment.

However, members of a new coding club at Marion Elementary School are part of a trend to integrate gaming and other computer technology into elementary education.

After attending an in-service training that highlighted the importance of coding in schools, MES Principal Justin Wasmuth was inspired.

“I felt there was a need for some sort of technology to be taught and I found it with coding,” Wasmuth said. “It’s something completely different than we have ever offered here before.”

Wasmuth welcomed 41 students to coding club March 30.

Club members use a free website called www.code.org that Wasmuth said is geared toward elementary school education to learn the basics of coding.

Coding exercises are presented like a series of puzzles. Instead of typing in a long series of keystroke commands in a certain coding language, students piece together commands that tell the game what to do.

“They start with smaller puzzles with fewer pieces and build up from there,” he said. “It was pretty addicting in the beginning.”

Wasmuth had no previous coding experience. He said video tutorials are also included in each lesson, and students work on their own codes at their own pace.

“It has been a great experience for me to lead, but students teach me as well,” he said. “They also team up and help each other out, which is great to see.”

Fifth graders Lane Svoboda Nathan Hoffner, and Tristen Dye were able to get together for an impromptu coding session Monday.

Tristen likes the challenge coding puzzles present, Nathan likes the freedom each lesson affords, and Lane valued the experience he is collecting for a real life situation.

“It’s glitching out,” Nathan said while attempting to solve a coding lesson on a game called “Plants Vs. Zombies.”

“Dude, dude, dude, that’s not how you do it,” Tristen said. “I don’t know what you did but its glitching out. Oh wait, I think you gotta move this over there.”

“We like helping each other,” Lane said. “You got to figure things out. It’s kind of like a diagram you have to make.”

Codes glitch when they have not been pieced together correctly, and glitches seem to make students giggle.

“They’re kinda weird,” Lane said.

Wasmuth said coding club is important to students’ education because of the growing demand in computer science.

“Students are learning the basics of how to program video games,” he said. “They’re worked on ‘Minecraft,’ ‘Angry Birds,’ and other games they know.”

If students enjoy the projects, he said it might lead some to consider computer science careers in the future.

Logan Amos, a third grade coding club member, said he might want to design his own sequels to several popular video game series someday.

“It’s fun,” Logan said. “You can really get into it. I like creating storylines. I also like it when I get stuck and the fifth graders help.”

His father, Scott, said Logan has had an interest in technology for a long time.

“He had a mini laptop when he was younger,” Scott said. “I guess you could say he’s been brought up on tech like a lot of kids are these days.”

The group meets from 3:45 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. Wednesdays until May 4.

Wasmuth said the program is open for students to work on projects at home and during the summer, too.

“The first year has gone really well,” Wasmuth said. “I would love to see this group expand.

Wasmuth has noticed a general interest in computers and computer science among elementary students. He believes coding club might also lead more students to join the newly formed Marion High School Technology Club.

Club sponsor Topher Rome started the club to foster an understanding and passion for technology, including gaming, hardware, software, and programming.

“I want the kids to produce something they can be proud of as part of the club, so I want them to choose ambitious goals each year,” Rome said. “Right now, some students have been working on Java programming tutorials and others have been tearing apart and rebuilding desktop computers.”

With 25 members, Rome said the tech club is still in a probationary period, but if club interest continues, he’d like them to build a functioning arcade cabinet from scratch, which would include wiring, carpentry, and other skills.

“Not all students will be interested in athletics so why not have another avenue for them if it’s there,” Wasmuth said.

Last modified April 27, 2016

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