Each December, students worldwide celebrate Computer Science Education Week by learning how to code.
As part of this tradition, several Eden Prairie High School (EPHS) students visited Prairie View Elementary on Dec. 16 to teach fifth graders the basics of coding.
The visit was part of EPHS’ Computer Science Honor Society’s (CSHS) longstanding outreach initiative in Eden Prairie’s elementary schools.
CSHS is a national organization that encourages student involvement in computer science, academic excellence, and volunteer service.
Its mission is to make computer science accessible and relatable and inspire the next generation of creative, well-rounded thinkers, says Lucas Wagner, EPHS junior and co-president of the high school’s CSHS.
“We see education in computer science as important for two reasons: it teaches important critical thinking skills, and it prepares students for a world increasingly centered around data,” Wagner says.
“Our goal isn’t for each fifth grade student to ultimately pursue a career in coding, and instead, we hope they discover that coding can enrich learning for everyone.”
Guided by the high schoolers, Prairie View students participated in various physical hands-on activities. This included making “Binary Bracelets,” where students wrote their initials in binary code using colored beads, a “Robot Maze,” and “Snakes and Ladders.”
In a game called “Parity Bit,” fifth grade teacher David Flom’s students watched closely as EPHS student Adrian Colaianni laid out a grid of special playing cards. Colaianni asked a fifth grader to turn one card over while he wasn’t looking, then said he’d try to guess which one it was.
When Colaianni turned back around and quickly identified which card had been flipped, a collective gasp of amazement filled the room.
“It’s a magic show!” exclaimed one student. Others guessed that Colaianni must have either incredible memory or superpowers to have known which card the student turned over.
In fact, Colaianni explained it wasn’t magic or superpowers but simple coding.
The activity demonstrated how parity bits are added to code in binary to ensure that messages are received without errors. These parity bits communicate information about whether the number of 1s and 0s in the original message are even or odd, Wagner added.
Although people think of coding as a computer-based activity, CSHS uses physical hands-on activities to get younger students to think and interact, says Jennifer Nelson, a computer science teacher and CSHS advisor at EPHS.
Nelson says classroom teachers can then do additional coding activities with students using iPads. A global educational initiative called Hour of Code offers free coding tutorials, materials and activities.
CSHS has been doing coding outreach in Eden Prairie schools for about eight years, Nelson says. This month, CSHS students have also visited Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion and Cedar Ridge Elementary.
“High school kids learn a lot about themselves when they leave my classroom and work with everyone else. Getting to share their passion (for computer science) with younger kids gives them the boost some of my students need right now.”Jennifer Nelson, EPHS computer science teacher and CSHS advisor
“Many of the kids I have in class today remember us coming to them in either middle school or elementary school,” she says. “It’s fun to have those same kids continue the tradition.”
Prairie View Principal Felicia Thames says it’s great to see older students sharing their love for computer science.
“What’s special about this is that it’s our high school students, and many of those students actually attended Prairie View,” Thames says. “It’s an opportunity for them to share their knowledge around STEM, and our students here are able to see them giving back.
“Those are the types of partnerships we’re hoping to build so that our students really begin to understand that service-learning piece, too, around giving back to community and how we help each other. You know, we go back, and we give back.”
Thames says these activities are important for Prairie View’s fifth graders.
“It’s special because we’re preparing students for roles that haven’t yet been created, and coding is one of those pieces that will have an impact on our students,” she says.
Nelson says her CSHS students also gain a great deal from volunteer outreach.
“High school kids learn a lot about themselves when they leave my classroom and work with everyone else,” Nelson says. “Getting to share their passion (for computer science) with younger kids gives them the boost some of my students need right now.
“Coming out of the pandemic, where lots of my students didn’t get to work (or lead) groups, is a big loss. This gives all my CSHS students the opportunity to be experts, share interest and excitement. It is so fun to be here, in my room, when they come back from the elementary school experience. They are thrilled with the experience.”
CSHS co-president Wagner agreed.
“Seeing kids’ faces light up as we taught our lesson and made real-world connections was incredibly rewarding, and our high school volunteers were also told that that they were seen as role models,” Wagner says. “That’s what matters to me.”
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