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Fun with Family Code Night

First slide

Queen Elsa of “Frozen” fame needs help skating across an icy pond: first in a straight line, then in a square and then in intricate snowflake patterns. Blocks of instructions are strung together to tell her how to move, and as she does, the game plays the sound of a wintry wind. If the blocks are placed correctly, a crystal chime rings. To win, all you need to know is computer code.

Well, not quite code, but certainly a basic understanding of how computers function. Code.org features many games that enable children to learn the fundamentals of coding with already familiar cartoon characters. It’s something Ruthie Cody, technology teacher at St. Louis School in Alexandria, likes to use with her students.

“They are learning the rules, not how to type out all of the unusual characters of actual code,” said Cody. “They’re understanding the process of how computers receive and follow and execute information.”

That’s also the idea behind Family Code Night, a nationwide event that teaches parent-child pairs how to code. The event, solely for second- through fifth-graders, will be held at St. Louis for the first time Jan. 31 during Catholic Schools Week, said Principal Kathleen McNutt. A member of the school community suggested it to McNutt knowing the school recently had renovated its computer lab.

“I loved that it had the family element,” said McNutt. “(Second through fifth) is a great age  —  the time when they are receptive to what mom and dad are saying in terms of technology.”

Cody teaches her students how to search the internet for information, how to type and how to collect, analyze and group data, among other things. Activities such as Family Code Night set the stage for actual coding in middle school. In sixth-grade, they learn the web programming language known as HTML then build their own website from scratch. This year, she is introducing the web language Python to eighth-graders.

Cody believes coding is valuable because it teaches students to think logically. “I tell this to my kids all the time —  computers are not smart. They are big, dumb machines that can only do exactly what you tell them,” she said.

Coding also can be valuable later in the job market, according to the Family Code Night webpage, which lists the many careers fields that require knowledge of coding, such as information technology, designs and communications. According to the site, “It’s estimated that by 2020, there will be more than 1 million unfilled coding jobs in the U.S.”

Because of technology’s growing importance, many parents ask Cody how they can give their child an edge in the field. She recommends they head outdoors.

“The kids who do best with programming are the ones who do not have screen time at home,” she said. “To be good at programing and coding, you have to be a logical thinker and you have to be a creative thinker. The kids who do the best are the ones who are reading books and going outside and in Boy Scouts,” she said. “I find (those kids) have it come more naturally.”

Learn more

To host a Family Code Night, go to signup.com/familycodenight.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017