Lisette Venegas’ second-grade class sat on a multicolored patchwork carpet and gathered around a smartboard. Moana, the title character from the latest Disney film, was on the screen with a mission for Venegas’ students: "Ayúdame a crear una línea."
As Venegas asked her class who wanted to help Moana make her line, the excitement was palpable. The students listened intently to the teacher's question, fighting the urge to raise their hands until she was done speaking.
Venegas teaches the two-way immersion (TWI) class at Verona’s Sugar Creek Elementary School. Students enrolled in TWI learn half of the day’s lessons in English and the other half in Spanish.
On Friday, they participated in the Hour of Code, a worldwide program designed to introduce people of all ages to computer science and coding. Each year, Hour of Code content reaches tens of millions of people in over 180 countries in 50 languages.
This is Venegas’ third year leading her students through Hour of Code activities at Sugar Creek. Venegas thinks it is important to expose her students to coding, especially in Spanish.
“Coding resources in Spanish are limited,” she said. “This is what the future is all about. I am teaching the future, so why not get them on board? I tell them, ‘You can be the one to make (this program) in Spanish.’”
There are dozens of age-appropriate activities created by the Hour of Code for students to choose from, many featuring their favorite characters from games and movies. The Moana coding tutorial lets students drag and drop boxes in the correct order to write their code. This visual method helps kids learn the logic of coding, setting the foundation for them to jump into text-based programming languages when they are ready.
Orlando Hernandez-Clyve confidently approached the board. His task was to help Moana move her raft forward, turn left, and travel three more spaces before casting her fishing line.
Orlando put his blocks in order, but something was not quite right. He looked to his classmates for assistance. “Izquierda, no al la derecha,” one of them chimed in. Moana’s raft was turned the wrong way. Orlando made a quick fix and she was back on track. The screen congratulated Orlando, “¡Bien hecho!” as his classmates applauded his effort.
After a few more rounds with Moana in the whole group, students grabbed their headphones and iPads for some independent work. Verona Area School District purchased an iPad for every student this year to fully integrate technology into each classroom.
Melissa Ruder, the educational technology coordinator at Sugar Creek, said that although Verona has gone “one to one,” the school wants to ensure that students are active participants in their learning.
“We want kids creating. We don’t just want them to sit and consume. We want them to be active creators, thinkers, and dreamers with technology and figure out how things work,” Ruder said.
To emphasize the importance of active participation with tech, Sugar Creek parents spent much of this year writing grants to fund a maker space.
The maker space is a dedicated room in Sugar Creek’s media center where students can cultivate their computer science skills using programs like Box Island, Scratch, “Dash and Dot” robots and 3D printing. The maker space also offers knitting and other arts and crafts to help students develop their fine motor skills.
Sugar Creek created professional development classes for teachers to learn how to use the maker space. Students can also take advantage of it during their free time.
“Now that winter is here we are offering (the maker space) as another recess option,"Ruder said. "That is becoming very popular.”
Venegas’ class is not the only one coding. Teachers throughout the building, including Lori Martin, watched her students write their programs. Minecraft and Frozen are popular choices.
Martin’s class had some special visitors, four students from Verona Area High School assist the fourth graders as they coded. Sophomore Jacob Amell was impressed by how well-versed his younger counterparts were at coding.
Ruder said having high school volunteers at Sugar Creek helps the elementary students maintain their interest in technology.
“We have a lot of high school kids who are doing computer science and writing their own video games. We are trying to pair them up with younger kids so they can see what their possibilities are for the future,” Ruder said.