Young students start from Scratch to learn computer coding

TV station teams up with Fulton school to get kids ahead of the learning curve

FULTON – Computers are everywhere, accessible to nearly everyone of any age these days.

But kindergarteners doing code?

Some kindergarten through second-grade students at Fulton Elementary School are getting ahead of the learning curve.

About 170 students picked up basic computer coding skills from Oct. 10 through Nov. 15 in an initiative using the PBS Kids Scratch Jr. computer app. The storytelling program lets children use simple coding instructions to animate characters from PBS shows.

WQPT Quad Cities PBS partnered with teachers at the school, with funding from Fulton resident Rosemary Huisingh, 69, who knows Mary Pruess, general manager at the station.

“When Mary told me this started in kindergarten, I wanted to give back,” Huisingh said at a news conference Monday at the school.

The students use symbols on the screen to create the instructions for the characters to act in certain ways. WQPT brought 30 Kindle Fire tablets to the school, with each of the nine classes receiving 225 minutes of coding instruction.

Michael Carton, WQPT’s education and outreach director, said the students learned both the app’s interface and how to determine which symbols would make a character do a certain action.

“The biggest thing is, it’s another literacy skill that kids in the 21st century will use,” Carton said.

Tests were given before and after the five sessions, with a 286 percent increase in scores from the pre-test to the post-test.

Some of the students showed off their skills Monday with the tablets. Andrew Betts, 6, of Albany, worked on animating a bat racing a green-skinned character.

“I like coding,” Andrew said.

Jax Stage, 5, of Fulton, also liked making characters race each other.

“My favorite is a cheetah,” he said.

Nadalee Doty, 5, of Fulton, shared which code was her favorite – “the code that makes people small.”

WQPT will continue to work with Fulton teachers to include the app in lessons. Carton hopes to expand the program to other schools in Whiteside County.

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