Groton students get peek at their future through 'Hour of Code'

Groton — In a fifth-grade classroom at the Catherine Kolnaski STEAM Magnet School on Thursday, cadets from the Coast Guard Academy's Cyber Team gave a presentation on cybersecurity and the tools to protect computer systems in the nation's ports. 

And the cadets said the work relates to what the young students are learning in school today.

"You're learning coding now," William Whitfield, first class cadet and Cyber Team member, told the students. "This is one of the many applications of what you're learning now."

The students were among many youths locally and internationally participating in the annual Hour of Code initiative during Computer Science Education Week. Hour of Code is an international campaign to teach students about computer science and coding that takes place this week in more than 180 countries, according to the initiative's website.

Catherine Kolnaski students not only learned coding in an hourlong lesson provided through Hour of Code this week, but also heard presentations about how the Coast Guard and U.S. Navy use coding. The students also learned about possible careers they may want to pursue.

After the cadets' presentation, students gathered in a circle to excitedly watch a demonstration of collision-avoidance technology, as a small robot with wheels moved across the floor and then backed up when it came close to a recycling bin set in its path. 

Delaney Swift, a second class cadet at the Coast Guard Academy and member of the Cyber Team, said she wasn't exposed to coding and programming when she was growing up, so speaking to youths is a personal mission.

"I want to be able to invite in a class of students and say 'get creative and get involved,' because as much as I know, she's going to know more than me when she's my age," Swift said, as fifth-grader Nylah Matthews, 10, stood nearby, eager to ask questions about Swift's career.

Computer science and programming are fields that Nylah is interested in for the future. "I really like coding, and I like computer science," she said.

In classrooms down the hall, older students and younger students were paired together in teams to work on laptops for "Hour of Code" activities where they learned how to use code to make characters — such as cats, robots and ducks — dance to different songs and with different brightly colored backgrounds. All the kindergarten through fifth grade students participated in the activity this week.

Fourth grade teacher Gail Dion said she loves seeing the smiles on students' faces after they do the coding and their characters start dancing. She said Hour of Code teaches perseverance, problem-solving and creativity.

Ben Moon, STEAM specialist at Catherine Kolnaski, said students take specials on computer science and coding as part of the school's curriculum, and Hour of Code, which provides fun and engaging activities, is another way to expose kids to coding. As part of the week, teachers also did a coding activity.

Fifth grade teacher Lauren Mailhot said the Hour of Code not only helps students learn to use technology, but also problem-solving and how to figure out solutions independently. She said students told her they now want to do this as their job when they grow up. 

Locally, schools in East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, Montville, New London, North Stonington, Norwich, Old Lyme, Salem, Stonington and Waterford are among those in Connecticut with scheduled Hour of Code events.

Exposing students to programming and coding at a young age allows them to become interested in the field — and potentially more students then will chose it as a future career, Moon said. In a world increasingly saturated by technology, coding also is becoming a foundational subject for all students, akin to how all students learn biology whether or not they become biologists.

"It'll help them understand the world when they grow up, whether or not they decide to be programmers or coders," Moon said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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