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APSU, local teacher team up to offer free coding classes for young students

September 12, 2018 | Email This Post Print This Post
 

Austin Peay State University

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – When Bridget Cloud first offered free junior computer coding classes at Clarksville-Montgomery County Public Library, she had one class and a few young students. But the number of students – and of classes – grew quickly.

“The interest for the little kids, it just kept going and going and going,” she said.

Northeast High School’s Bridget Cloud, standing, is founded and leads Clarksville Junior Coders. “We'll be working on something, and the kids will get off track,” she said. “That's what's so cool is they'll get off track, and they'll find something else, and they'll call me over, and we'll get all excited together.” (Dr. James Cloud, APSU)

Northeast High School’s Bridget Cloud, standing, is founded and leads Clarksville Junior Coders. “We’ll be working on something, and the kids will get off track,” she said. “That’s what’s so cool is they’ll get off track, and they’ll find something else, and they’ll call me over, and we’ll get all excited together.” (Dr. James Cloud, APSU)

And now, with Austin Peay State University offering support, she’s offering three Clarksville Junior Coder classes every other Saturday through the school year, and the sessions fill up quickly.

The classes already are full for September 22nd, and the October 6th classes have only a few seats left.

“That so many kids are interested is exciting,” Cloud said. “I want to keep them engaged. I want to spark their curiosity.”

What Happens in Class?

“I wanted to offer students a chance to get to know computer programming, to get to know it in a fun environment with no stress or grades or anything like that,” Cloud, who manages the Computer and Information Technology Academy at Northeast High School, said. “Just having fun and playing around with it.”

Clarksville Junior Coders has free sessions every other week through the school year. Austin Peay State University sponsors the classes by offering graduate teaching assistants and a faculty adviser to teach the sessions. (Dr. James Cloud, APSU)

Clarksville Junior Coders has free sessions every other week through the school year. Austin Peay State University sponsors the classes by offering graduate teaching assistants and a faculty adviser to teach the sessions. (Dr. James Cloud, APSU)

The classes are open to students from kindergarten to fifth grade and use Tynker, a web-based system that focuses on teaching young children computer coding.

During the August sessions, the students programmed characters on the screen to dance by dragging and dropping simple tasks into a series of commands, or loops. The students could tell the characters to kick then tell them to spin, for example, or to kick multiple times.

“They just drag it and drop it,” Cloud said. “They just have to think through the logic. They don’t have to worry about the syntax or the coding. They’re learning problem-solving, the basics of computer programming.”

Each session offers something different. While the students programmed dance move loops in the first set of classes, they programmed “if” statements in the second session: that is, if you click one button, the characters do one thing, such as kick, and if you hit another button, the characters do something else, such as spin.

How Did Austin Peay State University Get Involved?

This summer, Cloud approached Dr. Leong Lee, new chair of the APSU Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, about helping with the classes. She also applied for the APSU master’s program in computer science and quantitative methods.

Students at Clarksville Junior Coders learn the basics of computer coding. During the August session, they learned how to make a character on the screen perform specific dance moves. (Dr. James Cloud, APSU)

Students at Clarksville Junior Coders learn the basics of computer coding. During the August session, they learned how to make a character on the screen perform specific dance moves. (Dr. James Cloud, APSU)

“We were discussing the possibility, and (retiring chair) Dr. (Bruce) Myers came around and said, ‘Hey, we just accepted you into the master’s program,’ and Dr. Lee looked at me and said, ‘And Junior Coders is going to be your GTA (graduate teaching assistantship).’”

Lee not only offered Cloud a GTA position to continue Junior Coders, he awarded GTA positions to two other students, Bonnie Taylor and Damilola Olaleye, to help teach the classes, and he appointed Dr. James Church as APSU faculty sponsor of the program.

Church helped with the August Junior Coders session: “I watch these kids work, and I see them tinker, and I see them play. … I’ve watched kids come to life on these things. They get involved. They find ways to make the characters on the screen do crazy stunts.

“We’re OK with that because the more they’re interacting with that character on the screen through programming, that’s still learning how to program.”

Austin Peay is offering support for Junior Coders “because we believe in Bridget’s idea, the earlier we can get children to understand computer programming, then later in life they won’t be intimidated by it,” Church added. “We are overwhelmed by the community support for this.”

The classes are open to students from kindergarten to fifth grade and use Tynker, a web-based system that focuses on teaching young children computer coding. (Dr. James Cloud, APSU)

The classes are open to students from kindergarten to fifth grade and use Tynker, a web-based system that focuses on teaching young children computer coding. (Dr. James Cloud, APSU)

Want To Learn More?

Learn more about Clarksville Junior Coders by visiting its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/juniorcoders. You can sign up your child by visiting http://signup.com/go/zhyiCLa. Again, slots are claimed quickly and far in advance.

You can learn more about Tynker at www.tynker.com.

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