Andrew Stice came to the coding world with little in the way of preparation.
The 6th-grader from Thunder Ridge Middle School didn't have any experience designing computer games when he sat down with his peers in Kim Jones' technology class on Dec. 12. That didn't hold him back from creating a fun and engaging program featuring a movable ball in a matter of minutes.
Thanks to some simple strings of code found on some user-friendly, accessible websites, Stice didn't struggle with an impossible learning curve.
"I created my own game where you can't let the ball touch the top of the game screen or the bottom. If that happens, you'll hear this high-pitched screech. You want to avoid that – it's loud," explained Stice, age 11. "I took the code out of one of the demonstrations that they gave me and I modified it so it would do what I wanted it to do.
"This is the first time I've ever done anything that looks like this," he added.
Stice was one of more than 1,300 Thunder Ridge Middle School students from sixth, seventh and eighth grades to put their own spin on coding during a school-wide initiative held on Dec. 11 and 12. Students from all grades attended the classes to coincide with the global "Hour of Code" event, an international effort to connect students of all grade levels with computer science.
At Thunder Ridge, the event included every student from every grade level. They took turns taking part in the computer classes over two days, using computer coding to design games, create artwork and complete other high-level cyber tasks. Cherry Creek STEM (Science, Technology and Mathematics) and Innovation Coordinator Jon Pierce coordinated the event at the district level, but Thunder Ridge staff wanted to add their own spin to the event. They wanted to ensure that every student had access to the instruction.
"We decided to get our entire school involved. We went to science teachers to see if they would be willing to do it with their science classes over two days," said Kim Jones, technology coordinator for the school. The school's computer and applied technology classes also took part in the effort. "Everybody was quick to buy in. We have plenty of Chromebooks to use, and the teachers have all said the students loved it. We'd like to do it again next year."
The event gave students the chance to see the technology that drives the cell phone games and apps that are a constant presence in their everyday lives. The "Hour of Code" classes offered the students a way to take an active role in the technology that's become an essential part of the work and play.
"Coding is writing the programs that make the technology happen," Jones said, adding that programs like Scratch make the world of computer programming accessible. "Code is already written in blocks and kids can drag and drop it to make different things happen on the screen."
Such tools made the world of computer programming an interesting and engaging subject for students like 6th-grader Madison Richards, who spent her class time designing shapes and letters.
"I definitely want to take computer classes when I get to high school," she said. "I like computer engineering and programming … When you get frustrated and it doesn't go your way, it's hard, but it's fun putting in the numbers … tap tap tap," she added, recreating the sound of the computer keys.