Teachers learn to code at VIS

Clockwise from left, Valley Elementary School teacher Michelle Power, Mill Creek Elementary School teacher Jackie Smith, Valley Intermediate School teachers Christy Downing and Khadidr Jones and Our Lady of the Valley teacher Colleen Sweeney plan a lesson on conditionals. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

Clockwise from left, Valley Elementary School teacher Michelle Power, Mill Creek Elementary School teacher Jackie Smith, Valley Intermediate School teachers Christy Downing and Khadidr Jones and Our Lady of the Valley teacher Colleen Sweeney plan a lesson on conditionals. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

PELHAM—Teachers from across the state traveled to Valley Elementary School on Dec. 11 and 12 to attend computer coding workshops led by computer science professor with the University of Alabama School of Engineering, Dr. Jeff Gray.

During the workshops, teachers learned techniques to introduce elementary school students to the vocabulary and basics of coding.

“(They’re learning) how to write computer programs in a friendly environment for kindergarten through fifth grade students so they can take it to their classrooms,” Gray explained. “Our goal by May is to train 500 elementary school teachers on topics in computer science.”

The computer science and technology industry is growing, offering numerous job opportunities, Gray said. Additionally, learning computer science and code can enhance the existing curriculum.

Teachers at the Dec. 12 workshop worked together in small groups to create fourth and fifth grade-friendly lesson plans which they then presented to each other.

“We’re creating a lesson plan (about conditionals) that we’re going to teach to the other group,” Jackie Smith, a fifth grade teacher at Madison’s Mill Creek Elementary School explained.

“If you’re doing a program, you need to understand conditionals in order to make that program run,” Our Lady of the Valley computer teacher Colleen Sweeney added.

Through a partnership with Code.org, teachers are equipped with a variety of tools, both computer-based and “unplugged,” to teach children how to code.

The computer programs are designed to feel like games, using characters from popular movies, such as Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen,” Gray said.

“They’re writing programs that make Elsa skate across a frozen pond,” Gray said, demonstrating how through a pattern of commands, the students can direct how Elsa skates.

Teachers also received a textbook with more than 300 games and puzzles to tie coding into math lesson plans and reinforce concepts the students have learned.

“It teaches students more about problem solving and analyzing that they wouldn’t get in a regular math class,” Gray said. “It’s really good differentiated learning, you always have a spot for everyone… it will help them become better problem solvers.”

Teachers attending the workshops said they hoped to apply the lessons they learned in their classrooms “right away.”

“I tried the hour of code with my students earlier this week,” Smith said. “They loved it.”