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BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/ Photo by Melody Chan
BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/ Photo by Melody Chan

In a world of technology, there is a global movement to introduce all students to computer science.

Hence, all 63 classes at I.S. 259, William McKinley Intermediate School, participated in the largest learning event in history, The Hour of Code, for the second year during Computer Science Education Week, December 5-11.

The school, located at 7301 Fort Hamilton Parkway, had provided coding instruction to 1,714 students out of the total student body of 1,770 by Friday, December 9. The difference was due to absences.

“It’s amazing,” Assistant Principal Victor Iacovano said. “Training and exposing 1,714 kids to coding is an incredible accomplishment. Last year, they were able to train every single kid in coding and even as our numbers have grown in this school, we were still targeting every single student and it’s incredible.”

In addition to the 23 teachers instructing students on how to code, a Code Squad, comprising of 19 sixth graders who excel in coding, helped other students complete their hour of coding.

Math and coding teacher for the sixth grade, Margarette Desilus-Lacon, said she decided to create a squad of Codesters when she saw some students struggling during class, and certain students catching on and enjoying coding.

“I said ‘Oh, let me just use them as assistant teachers’ and then the Code Squad began,” Desilus-Lacon said. “And the great thing is these kids just came in, this is their first year here, so for them to be excited about it, it’s fantastic.”

Codester Hamza Fey said, “It feels really good inside to help others, especially if they don’t know coding.”

In addition, teachers took the initiative to learn their students’ abilities before selecting a suitable coding program, according to Naomi Lehrer, UFT Teacher Center site staffer, who spearheaded the school’s participation in Hour of Coding.

“If we have a large population of English new language learners, their capabilities are a little more limited, so some of the teachers knowing this have selected other programs to utilize,” Lehrer said. “There are over 20 programs available on Code.org/learn and teachers have explored it and found better programs.”

Even so, some teachers also found coding to be difficult. Lehrer uses self-guided programs so she could then teach students how to use those programs.

“One of the kids asked me if I knew how to code and it’s funny because I don’t consider myself an expert in coding,” she said. “And you know it’s kind of strange to tell kids that I don’t really know how to code but I want to teach you how to code or at least expose to you how to code.”

According to Code.org, only 40 percent of schools teach computer science, but 93 percent of parents want their child to learn it.

Thus after the success of last year’s Hour of Coding, the school decided to implement a stand-alone program, Desilus-Lacon said.

“We support the Computer Science for All initiative that the mayor and chancellor have been advocating for,” Iacovano said, “and we want that for every single kid, so having time during school and after school is something parents really support. We’re glad we can bring that to them and we’re looking to improve it and increase it in the future also.”

It’s important to teach kids things that haven’t been created yet and about fields that don’t exist yet, Lehrer said.

“I think even that one hour and exposing them to that sort of work is just a great start for their futures and for them to develop their ideas,” she added.

Desilus-Lacon said she tried to include more girls in the Code Squad, because there are fewer females than males in the field.

“All the girls are very good,” she said. “And I’m excited that they’re excited because it’s a hard push for girls, a very hard push.”

“I’ll probably try to learn advance coding,” Vivian Chu in the Code Squad said. “I’ll try to code some games but I don’t want to work as a coder.”

Chu, along with the other Codesters, will be in the Code Squad for the next two years. When next year’s incoming sixth grade class arrives, an additional Code Squad will develop.

However, Lehrer said the school is struggling to maximize the number of computers available for the students. They’ve kept computers that a lot of schools have probably long considered obsolete, extending the computers’ lives with the use of a program, and had a person put together parts.

“We’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel to use every computer we’ve had,” Lehrer said.

Although the school ordered several computers last year, it recently ordered over 200 more Chromebooks in hopes of having better equipment for the following years, in order to dispose of the equipment that needed to be discarded several years ago.

“The first step is to expose them to possibilities, and [Hour of Coding] is a piece of it,” Lehrer said.

“We’re proud of our coding program and proud of being part of Brooklyn Hour of Code,” Iacovano said. “And we’re just really proud that we could do our part in giving kids this experience.”

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