LAKE ASBURY – It’s one thing to sit at a desk and write computer code, but it’s a completely different phenomenon when the coder gets to see their handiwork put into action and get to explain to others how it all works.
Thousands of Clay County students put their knowledge of writing computer code to the test last week for an hour as part of the Hour of Code during 2018 Computer Science Week.
While most Clay County schools participated, Lake Asbury Junior High opened its doors to county commissioners, law enforcement, parents and more to showcase what they are learning and how it can be applied to their futures. According to LAJH Principal Becky Murphy, it was important to have more than just students involved.
“I think it’s important for the community to see what our kids are doing, but also for the kids to see how adults want to learn from them,” Murphy said. “That’s what’s so special about these kinds of things. Anytime a student has an opportunity to teach others, student or adult, about what they’re learning, they’re internalizing it.”
Murphy hopes students who are not normally exposed to computers and coding may become interested and see coding as a viable career field. According to Murphy, there were over 500,000 jobs last year that required coding and only 43,000 graduates with an applicable degree.
“That’s a large hole in the workforce that could be filled by our students one day, which are so incredibly bright,” Murphy said.
Superintendent Addison Davis said the Hour of Code, which most of the Clay County School District took part in, is a way to expose students to all the facets within technology while keeping it fun and exciting.
“The Hour of Code is a way for us to find and implement fun and creativity in our classrooms,” Davis said. “We know that computer science is so important and within our classrooms today, we want to be able to expose all learners to the problem solving, the communications, the critical thinking, and the collaboration involved in order to fall in love with kinesthetic, full hands-on project-based learning activities, and this is the way that’ll do it for our county.”
At LAJH, eighth grade students put Davis to work in the computer science lab. Sitting within the computer science lab was a large and shiny first place trophy that the LAJH robotics team earned in the past two years’ Technology Student Association System Control Competition. According to Technology and Robotics teacher Maria Behnken, the students went in blind with no idea what they were going to have to build that day. They built a robot based on a rigorous set of instructions and completed a written report to explain the science. Having done so well, they won first place at the state competition the past two years.
After coming in first at state, the team went to the national competition in Texas where won second. Last year, they competed nationally in Atlanta and came in third. Their next state competition is in February and if they win first there, they’ll compete in the national competition in Washington, D.C.
“It really is incredible to see what these kids can do,” Behnken said. “They take everything they’ve learned and apply it to something they’ve never seen before and they make it work.”
These students, the best coders at LAJH, helped fellow coders during the Code of Hour to share their knowledge and like Murphy said, internalize what they’ve learned throughout the year.
One eighth grader, Oliver Laird, wrote over 1,900 lines of code, something he said took 10 hours, to develop a question-and-answer video game. The computer screen presents the player with a question. The player answers the question and the program responds. Laird programmed the program to respond with smart, humorous and eerily lifelike answers. Despite how challenging creating a program like this was, it was always fun for Laird.
“I just kept going and going because I was enjoying it so much and now it’s 1,900 lines of code,” Laird said.
Laird was excited to show fellow students, community leaders and parents the program he had developed.
“I think it will really surprise some people,” Laird said. “People might not expect the level of coding some of us are at.”
Murphy sees a bright future in coding for students like Laird and hopes that her school’s focus on technology and robotics shows students that not only is there a career to be had in the coding field, but a bright and robust one as well.
“For many kids, this hour might be their first taste of coding, and maybe they’ll enjoy it so much that next year, they sign up for technology,” Murphy said. “Then, all of a sudden, years later, these kids have made an awesome career out of coding. It’s the way our world is going and I’m happy that LAJH and Clay County are leading the charge.”