CACTC students teach younger students to code

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December 5 to 11 was Computer Science Education Week all over the world. With the recent implementation in Rhode Island of CS4RI, Rhode Island's comprehensive statewide computer science initiative that has a goal of engaging students at every grade level in the public schools in computer science instruction by December 2017, there was no better way for Cranston Area Career and Technical Center's (CACTC) Interactive Digital Media (IDM) students to share what they love about computer science than for them to teach their elementary school aged peers to code.

CACTC is housed on the Cranston High School West campus. IDM is a three-year program taught by Aimee Duarte, it begins in the students' sophomore year of high school. Students in the program progress through a computer science continuum that includes topics such as web design, photo editing, animation, coding, website and mobile app creation, game design, computer programming and computational thinking. Several of the students who participated in this year's Hour of Code event also take Duarte's Computer Science Principles class as well.

On Thursday, December 8, teams of high school students traveled from CACTC to George J. Peters Elementary School and Oaklawn Elementary School where they visited classrooms at the third and fifth grade levels. The ten students from CACTC who participated by preparing and delivering lessons to their younger peers were: Nicholas Tansino, Timothy Blais, Zachary Jacavone, Brandon Casale, Caroline Cowart, Alexandria Crouse, Samantha Evans, Zachary Pecchia, Brandon Romeo, Madison Lemire, Brittany Smith and Dan Roussel.

The Hour of Code tutorials (code.org/learn) teach basic coding to students of all ages utilizing popular themes such as Star Wars and Minecraft. Each group of students taught two hour-long coding sessions. The high school students were also prepared with "unplugged" lessons, should there be any glitches in technology that day.

The high school students guided the elementary students through a tutorial that used building blocks of code. In the lower grades, a Star Wars tutorial was used, and the students gasped and laughed in delight as they helped BB-8 gather scrap metal to build a galaxy and other familiar characters such as R2-D2 appeared on the screen to help out. As the students progressed through the tutorials level by level, the coding got progressively harder and used more commands. Throughout the lessons, the high school students modeled each step for the students, and the students then worked independently at their desks at laptop computers. 

According to Duarte, the students who were working with the fifth grade at Oaklawn School were able to use a Minecraft tutorial with the students, which was slightly more difficult, because the students had done the Hour of Code program when it was offered by CACTC last year and therefore had a background in building code from the previous year's lesson.

At the conclusion of each session, the elementary students were given Post-It Notes and asked to evaluate the program. The high school students passed out Hour of Code stickers and individual certificates for every student to commend them for completing an hour of code. The high school students encouraged the students to continue exploring the world of code on the website by completing additional tutorials on their own at home.

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