“I’ve been doing coding for a couple of years now,” Blake said. “I started to blog a couple of months ago.”
He’s also a 10-year-old fourth-grader at Johnson Elementary School, and the blog he writes is the school’s. On a recent school day in the library, he showed the Greedy Octopus, a game he made on Scratch.
First-grader Hadley Hill, 7, was at another table using Scratch Jr. to make a blue car move in a game, while special education student Coen Rude, 6 and in kindergarten, was using coding to run a two-wheeled robot. The Johnson library was occupied by more than 15 students using tablets or computers to do coding or related activities, which for the younger students included playing Minecraft.
For the past two years, all elementary KCS students have had the opportunity to learn to code.
HOW DOES THE PROGRAM WORK?
District library media specialists, like Johnson’s Rebecca Thomasson, provide coding instruction to all elementary students during related arts time. To continue a computer science pathway in middle school, dedicated technology teachers have become computer science teachers. Coding is taught to all students during the school day in order to provide equitable access. The program provides approximately 14 hours of coding time per student each school year, depending on school schedules.
KCS began the Computer Science for All implementation program in 2016, when a coding grant was received by Emerald Data Solutions, the makers of BoardDocs, according to Communications Editor Marybeth McLain. The founder of Emerald Data Solutions established the nonprofit corporation BootUp to bring computer science and coding to all elementary students and to provide librarians professional development, or PD, sessions.
“I am excited to be part of this initiative and feel fortunate to have had and continue to have excellent guidance and training throughout this process,” Jefferson Elementary librarian Kristy Williamson-Jackson said.
BootUp’s PD facilitator, Kathy White, provides professional development and onsite coaching to support teachers as they learn how to code. “It is critical for students to be exposed to coding in a fun, connected, and meaningful way to engage and encourage them to pursue this lifetime skill,” White said.
BootUp continues to provide support and curriculum for free, and KCS teachers are paying it forward by sharing with other librarians across the state. They recently made a presentation on implementing a coding curriculum and robotics program at the 2017 Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference, where Thomasson received the Elementary Innovative Librarian Award for her coding program.
CODING FOR ALL
Thomasson said the grades K-2 students usually use Scratch Jr., while grades 3-5 use Scratch and Code.org. “It’s just for everybody,” Thomasson said, explaining that she initially had concerns about how coding would work for special education and special needs students. “It’s instruction.”
Nearby, special education second-grader Joshua Woody was playing Minecraft on Code.org. “Sometimes he reads, but most of the time he codes,” Thomasson said. “When I started, I didn’t know whether to include the special needs in it or not, but I tried it and they took off.”
She said students of all abilities generally don’t need a teacher to “stand over the top of them” during coding work, and that she still has time to do traditional library activities like reading and helping students select books.
“Kingsport City Schools students love learning to code,” Robinson Middle librarian Jennifer Sturgill said. “BootUp has put a lot of thought and knowledge into designing a program so teachers learn how to instruct students.”
Lincoln Elementary librarian Krystal Reynolds said, “I believe if I can give students the tools they need to be learners for the rest of their life, I’ve made a difference.”
For more information on BootUP, go online to bootuppd.org.