Students learn code


Jaxson Viermann sat in a computer lab at Canyon High School and focused on guiding the angry bird to the naughty pig.

“What is he doing? He’s behind the pig,” the 10-year-old elementary schooler said.

“He’s facing the wrong direction, kiddo,” said Steve Raymond, a sophomore at Canyon High. Viermann rearranged some blocks of text shown on his computer screen, clicked a button and watched as the computer processed his instructions to navigate a small image of a bird toward its target, a green pig.

Viermann was playing a simulation of the popular game Angry Birds, but the blocks he moved to change the path of the bird were a simplified form of a programming language called Javascript. And only the right order of the “code” unlocks the next level.

Viermann and hundreds of other Canyon Independent School District fourth graders paired up with high school students for an introduction to programming as the school district marked Computer Science Education Week, which started Monday.

Advocates argue that schools across the nation need to do more to encourage students of all backgrounds to consider careers in computer-
science related fields.

 According to data compiled by the education week’s organizer, Seattle-based nonprofit, there are 500,000 open computing jobs nationwide, but only 43,000 computer science students graduated into the workforce in 2014.

Those who enter the field are disproportionately white and male, according to the nonprofit, which is backed by tech-industry heavyweights including Google, Facebook and Apple.

While many of the kids in elementary school are born with access to technology, so-called “digital natives,” they often don’t get exposure to what’s happening under the hood of those devices, said Lance Culbert, head of the business and computer education department at Canyon High.

“It’s the difference between driving a car and being able to work on the engine,” he said. “The more that they’re seeing the guts, the engine, the better they will be able to use the tool.”

Culbert said he hoped that early exposure to coding would help students be more comfortable with the idea of taking a computer science classes when they reach high school.

Public schools in Texas have required to offer such courses since 2014, but it is not mandatory for students to take them before graduating.

The courses can be used to satisfy math and foreign language requirements needed to graduate.

“You’re learning grammar, in a sense. In Javascript, all lines of code end with a semi-colon. You have to use parentheses a certain way,” Raymond said as his younger partner programmed his way through a new stage.

“You’re learning a separate language where you can talk to computers.”