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NICHOLAS MERCER: Growing up in the coding generation

Jacob Eldridge and James Delunei are two students who are immersing themselves in coding as a part of a coding club at Sacred Heart Elementary.
Jacob Eldridge and James Delunei are two students who are immersing themselves in coding as a part of a coding club at Sacred Heart Elementary. - Nicholas Mercer

The challenge these students are having is to get their sphere-like robot to move from one coloured block to the other.

Armed with a small laptop computer, Sacred Heart Grade 5 students James Delunei and Jacob Eldridge are working together get the Sphero to go where they need it to go.

Coding Club teacher Greg Leboubon stands in the upstairs hallway of the Corner Brook school and offers some subtle tips. He wants them to solve the problem and is gently pushing them in the right direction.

These two, along with the dozen or so students in the club, are at the grassroots movement of coding in schools. Not all are messing around with a Sphero. Some are making small games, while others are making another robot follow a coloured line.

Back in the hallway, Delunei and Eldridge think they have it figured out. Placing their robot on the corner of a mat filled with blocks of blue, orange, red and green, the sphere moves from one square to the next until it reaches the end of its course.

Each successful movement is met with a celebratory fist bump and shout of success from the two boys.

Members of the school’s basketball team, they liken seeing their programming succeed to the feeling they get when they win on the court.

They figure they’re going to stick with programming as they move through grades. They’d love to get to the point where they make a game or something out of the ordinary.

Over the last couple of years, there has been an increased focus on getting students into coding classes.

It started four years ago with a call for proposals for schools interested in being a part of a pilot project

The goal for the Newfoundland English School District is to have the number of schools engaging their students in coding related activities at 80 per cent by the end of this school year.

On the west coast, officials figure there 95 per cent of schools have students coding in one form or another.

Now, to say coding is a new thing in schools would be foolhardy. Schools from all over have been competing in the Lego League for years.

At its base level, that is all about writing code and programming your construct to do what you need it, too.

Still, only in the last handful of years have schools put an emphasis on introducing coding and computer science as a part of the curriculum.

Finn Maloney had her post-secondary sights set on being an English teacher. A Grade 11 student at Corner Brook Regional High, she had figured it was the best path for her to take in her future.

That changed last month.

At the end of a computer science class, Maloney informed her teacher that she had decided to become a programmer.

Prior to the class, she had no previous coding experience.

The switch, however, comes before that day in class. She was sitting in bed in her Corner Brook home when it clicked.

A light bulb went off and her path flipped. She was going to pursue computer science as her vocation.

She would stray away from a career with the written word and move towards one with a language of a different kind.

“It is just logical thinking that gets you through (programming) and nothing else. That is all there is to it,” said Finn. “It was awhile into it that I realized that programming is something I would be willing to do every day.

“It is so much fun to me.”

Maloney represents a student group that is seeing an increase in coding at the latter stages of their school careers.

She didn’t grow up with it like her peers in the primary and elementary levels. It was introduced to her late and it is interesting to see her take to it.

When Maloney finished class projects, she clamoured for more. As she put, she needed to code.

In a way, Maloney’s path will take be the opposite of mine. When I left high school, I entered a two-year programming course at the College of the North Atlantic in Carbonear after it was clear I wasn’t ready for Memorial.

I finished that course, but never sought work as a programmer. Instead, I went back to school and pursued an English degree.

It is weird how you see yourself in people. I spoke with three students with an affinity for coding and computer science. They, themselves, were at different parts of their journey in that world and I could see parts of me at various stages in them.

I think I would have loved to see coding as an integral part of my high school curriculum.

I’m glad these kids are getting to experience it.

“I just want to do this someday,” said Maloney.

Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at Nicholas.mercer@thewesternstar.com.

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