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Milton students learning computer coding

Jan. 24—NEW COLUMBIA — Karey Killian, Milton Area School District's library media specialist has quite the class size. She teaches coding to a combined 800 kindergarten through fifth-grade students at two schools, moving easily from White Deer to Baugher elementary schools every week.

Killian has been teaching in the district for 10 years but has more than 25 years of teaching experience in total.

Students learn using code.org. "It's a free program, and I like it because I can get all the students on it and they work at their own pace," Killian said. "Students who are really into coding, and have a passion for it can practice outside a library class and just run with it. It's amazing to see that."

Early Thursday morning, before regular classes, about 25 fifth-grade students gathered in the White Deer Elementary School library to practice coding on code.org.

Two students, Fallon Small, and Lane Ficks, quickly finished their fifth-grade level lessons and were already working on sixth-grade lessons.

"It's really exciting that we have learned to do this," Small said, as he deftly dragged pieces on the page.

Other students were busy, enjoying time on their Chromebooks.

"I think it's cool that we can do this at such a young age so that it helps us when we get older," said Elise Platt.

"If we want to be an engineer," said Devin Hause, "coding can help us fix Chromebooks and make apps."

"Coding," added MaKenna Moyer, "is truly an immersive experience and it is really fun."

Coding is a great experience for anything in life to help us help others, added Olivia Morgan.

"It's really exciting to see the joy on their faces when they figure out a challenging puzzle on their own," Killian said. "I see their confidence building as they take on more challenges. They're learning strategies to solve problems to find working solutions. 'Yes, I did it' is my favorite phrase to hear while monitoring their work."

The biggest thing Killian likes about the program is that it gets kids problem-solving. "We also get them to think that when things don't go right, it's OK. Just click reset and begin again," Killian explained.

Even kindergartners participate in coding. "I have one who finished the entire program at home using his sister's iPad," Killian said.

What code.org teaches is block coding — learning how to drag and drop. There might be a bird. Students can have it move forward, turn, move forward, and turn. There is an indicator to see if the moves were correct. If it isn't they see what was wrong and they can fix it and try again.

It gets more intense the more blocks they complete.

It is a very fun way to learn, Killian said. "When teaching a new concept, there is an accompanying 2-minute video of another student doing exactly what they will be doing and how to get their character to do the new skill they are learning. I have a fifth-grader. The first day I gave him his class code he went home that night and completed the entire course. And that is more than 300 lessons. He also taught himself Python, which is a higher level of coding."

The kids at White Deer on Thursday morning seemed self-sufficient and self-motivated to go through the lessons with minimal supervision.

"I told their respective teachers they were a group of thinkers," Killian said. "They want to figure things out. It is always so exciting to see that as an educator. Kids not giving up when things don't go as they're supposed to. They try things out and figure it out."

Killian noted that her field, library science, is about literacy, books, and learning to love reading. "But we also focus on digital citizenship and learning computer science," she said. "Being literate with technology. All this is important because there are so many jobs that are available and open now and the lack of people who know how to do them. I know that if I can get the kids excited about this at the elementary level when they get to middle and high school they can jump into these programs and learn more."

After finishing at White Deer, Killian left for Baugher, where other students were learning coding.