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Episode 72: Coding in the Classroom Can Launch Great Careers

A new program in Jordan School District has middle school students preparing right now for future careers in technology. They are learning how to code in the classroom - creating computer games and perfecting a skill that could land them great paying jobs in a high demand industry.

On this episode of the Supercast, we take you inside some classrooms where kids are learning to code. Find out why coding is making math fun in a unique way for so many students and teachers right now and how parents can support their kids who want to code.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. A new program in Jordan School District has middle school students preparing right now for future careers in technology. They're learning how to code in the classroom, creating computer games and perfecting the skill that could land them great paying jobs in a high demand industry. On this episode of the Supercast, we take you inside some classrooms where kids are learning to code. Find out why coding is making math fun in a unique way for so many students and teachers right now, and how parents can support their kids who want to code.

I'm here in Mr. Nielsen's Creative Coding Class, where they've been learning how to do some graphics here at Hidden Valley Middle School. Eric, tell me about what you coded.

Eric:
Currently, I programmed a little game here. Whenever you hit the space bar, hit up the number by one and you can just get little upgrades. Took me awhile to code, fill the background, put the numbers on the screen.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, that's cool. So what did you learn by programming this?

Eric:
I learned how to get numbers and thoughts on the screen. That was an issue for me before I learned how to put little boxes of color words, how to get input from the player.

Anthony Godfrey:
How many of you, raise your hand if you want to continue with coding in some form after this class? That's great. That's a lot of you.

Student:
I have been interested in coding for a while now. And it's interesting in coding because you have to tell the computer exactly what you want it to do, step-by-step. If you told the computer, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it would be like okay, what do you want me to do? You would have to take out the bread, take out the peanut butter, take out the jelly. Take out two slices of bread and put them next to each other. And then each step step-by-step. So you have to think about what goes into the process.

Anthony Godfrey:
Oaky. I forgot to tell the computer to take the lid off the peanut butter. We're in trouble now. Yeah. Tell me your name. I say you may talk, Isaiah. Tell me about the project that you have going right now.

Isaiah:
I made this one. He lets us do our code at your own stuff. Yeah. Where we make our own code. And I made one like a game. It started by your grandmother asking me to go and get groceries. Kind of a choose your own adventure. Yeah. See, will you go and get some for me? Some groceries and I put it. So if you put yes or no, it doesn't matter. And she makes you go and get them.

Anthony Godfrey:
So you say no, grandma. I'm not sure.

Isaiah:
That's not too bad. So you left to go to the grocery store, but on your way, there is a fork in the road in your path. What will you do? Go left? Go right? Or pick up a fork.

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh, you pick up. So let's pick up the fork.

Isaiah:
We picked up the fork and pick up the fork and decide to keep going straight. In your way is a mountain range. Will you go, what will you do? Go around it, go over it, go through it or go up under the mountain.

Anthony Godfrey:
Let's go under the mountains.

Isaiah:
Do you turn into Steve from Minecraft? Dig straight down and you find diamonds, but as soon as you find them, you fall into Lofa. First of all in Minecraft.

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. So I digress, but quickly say something. They programmed that so they could show me. Okay. What's your name?

Issac:
Isaac Lawrence.

Anthony Godfrey:
Isaac. What do you have here?

Issac:
I have a pretty basic code here where I just write out all this stuff and he just prints out a basic picture.

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh yeah.

Issac:
And I mean, he would like create images with it. It's pretty cool.

Anthony Godfrey:
We're here with Steve, one of the two coding teachers here at Hidden Valley Middle School. What got you interested in teaching this class?

Steve:
They had an opportunity to show up. I think programming has been a lot of fun over the many years. And they said, Hey, do you want to teach coding? And we have an opportunity for you. So I get to show these students how to write code. It's very a logical approach and it shows them step by step how to go from point A to point B.

Anthony Godfrey:
What progression have you seen in these students from the start of this school year to now?

Steve:
Oh, they have gone so far beyond my ideas and imagination. It has been amazing. They've gone from knowing that coding exists, but not much more than that, to be able to write a code, to make a game, ask questions, do things like Mad Libs. They can draw images, which are really amazing. And they've learned a little bit on how to animate them.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, thank you very much for your time. I sure appreciate it.

Steve:
Yeah. Thank you so much.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me your name.

Kevin:
So my name is Kevin Peterson.

Anthony Godfrey:
All right Kevin. What do you have here?

Kevin:
So while we were learning about different things, you can do, kind of like his, choose your own adventure. But for this specifically, we were learning about incorrect input. So you can miss the bus, ride the bus, or you get some driving me, but if you press like an extra option or try to press one, and then there's not one that says you get hit by the bus, your morning was ruined by invalid input.

Anthony Godfrey:
My morning has been ruined by invalid input more than you know. Can I see the code? Can you show me backstage here?

Kevin:
This is just like a little title area. These print statements are how you learn what's happening and stuff. Then there's input, which is user choice. And that's when they choose ABC or anything else. And then there's the "if then statement". So do the F and then if you choose A, you get, you missed the bus but your friend comes by just then. If you do B you take the bus all the way down, then there's our statements. Which means if none of this happens, this happens. And that's how the invalid input happens.

Anthony Godfrey:
I see. Are you kind of amazed at how much code it takes to accomplish things? And do you think about what you see out in the world and how much work it must've taken?

Kevin:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
We're here with Ryan Nielsen, one of the computer programming teachers here at Hidden Valley Middle School. What do you teach through the rest of the day Mr. Nielsen?

Mr. Nielsen:
I teach seventh grade science currently.

Anthony Godfrey:
Had you ever taught coding or been involved in coding before this?

Mr. Nielsen:
Yes. I have a decent background in it. I used to be a Systems Administrator for a company and did some minor coding and HTML paid webpage and stuff like that.

Anthony Godfrey:
I'm really excited that you and other teachers have taken this on. What was involved in being trained and prepared to teach computer programming this year?

Mr. Nielsen:
So the company set us up with some training sessions and we basically went through the exact same programs that the kids are doing this year. And the nice thing about it is the TechSmart Program has everything laid out there so that you can get help on your own.

Anthony Godfrey:
And how long was that training?

Mr. Nielsen:
I think it was two weeks in the summer. And then we've done another week here during the year. Just bit by bit.

Anthony Godfrey:
And what is the ongoing support that's provided by TechSmart?

Mr. Nielsen:
Again, they have during the class help desk that I can just message and they'll get straight back to me. I've never had to wait. But also I email or message after school if I have any big questions.

Anthony Godfrey:
So even if you have a question in real time during class, you can get a quick response from them. And the curriculum is all laid out by TechSmart. Is that correct?

Mr. Nielsen:
Correct. Yes.

Antony Godfrey:
So what have you liked about being able to teach computer programming this year?

Mr. Nielsen:
Some of the kids were saying it's, well, I had one student say I didn't have anything else on and I don't know how they got in here. I don't know if it was recommended by the counselor or not, but he said it's been so fun. Typically the kids love coming in here and doing their coding projects. It's a lot like a puzzle. You have a certain situation that you have to create and then they go and figure out the code, the language to make the computer understand what they're trying to say.

Anthony Godfrey:
I could tell, just talking with a few students in your class that they really liked getting to grapple with that and think things through. And I can imagine in ways that they probably don't even realize their ability to think logically and to problem solve is greatly enhanced by going through these exercises.

Mr. Nielsen:
Yes. When we get into loops and conditionals, it's very easy to take a program that could be a hundred lines of code and change it into 10 and they see that you can make solutions in many different ways. I think that really helps them learn how to solve real life problems differently to be creative.

Anthony Godfrey:
I see you have a flyer here on your desk available for students that outlines some of the companies that use Python, which is the program that's used in these classes: Google, Netflix, Reddit, Instagram, Dropbox, Facebook, everything. We use Spotify, a personal favorite of mine. And that is coding jobs. They start out at $80,000 a year. So it's pretty awesome that a seventh or eighth grade student can be starting to learn something that can lead them to such a profitable and an in-demand career.

Mr. Nielsen:
Yes. And a lot of these companies will take you on and help you get to where you need to be. If you've got a good foundation, they can bring you on and pay for some of your education. So it's a great area to be in. We're just expanding from the tech companies are expanding from here. So, wow.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's a crazy year in every way. And I just want to thank you for taking on the task when so much else is going on. We have to keep moving forward and this is a big step forward for our students. So thank you very much.

Mr. Nielsen:
You're welcome. It's fun to teach.

Anthony Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back, find out about the job opportunities for kids who code and why it's a skill that can set students up for a lifetime of success in the workplace.

Break:
It is one of the most prestigious academic achievement programs available for high school students. And we're proud to say, it's coming back to Jordan School District. We're talking about the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, which will be located at West Jordan High School. The IB Program supports personal and academic achievement for students at the very highest level. IB Diploma Courses take place during a student's junior and senior year in high school. All sophomores are invited to consider the IB Program for next year. There are no pre-requisites for IB and interested in middle school students can start preparing now. Students with the IB Diploma have a better chance at getting into some of the most prestigious universities in the world. In order to find out if your teen is a good candidate for IB visit http://ib.jordanditrict.org, or call West Jordan High School.

Anthony Godfrey:
Bruce Levin, the Founder and CEO of TechSmart. Thanks for being on the Supercast.

Bruce:
It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Anthony Godfrey:
I have been working with Bruce and we've been working with Bruce as a District for about a year now getting the Computer Science classes in place. And I wanted to tell you, Bruce, I don't know if I've told you this story, but I saw this email from you about TechSmart. It was a brief, fairly nondescript explanation of the basis of your company and the way you wanted to approach bringing teachers to Computer Science instead of bringing Computer Science teachers to the classroom. Can you tell us a little bit about that approach?

Bruce:
Yeah, absolutely. So, our approach really is to work with districts like yourselves that are really committed to getting students to higher outcomes in coding and Computer Science by implementing pathways, secondary pathways in middle and high school.

And a big part of that is really helping districts build teaching capacity by providing really in-depth professional learning for the teachers. So each of your teachers at middle schools this year, nine teachers participated over the summer in the school year in very intensive, what we are calling Teacher Coding Bootcamps. These are professional learning experiences where teachers are learning the software development skills, which are preparing them to teach the students. And the goal really is to help teachers build the knowledge and skills to teach with the fidelity of a software engineer as they're working with their kids in the classroom.

Anthony Godfrey:
I have spoken with a few students at the middle school and I visited a couple of classes. And when I asked them, a lot of hands shot up saying that they want to pursue this more beyond this class, most hands in fact.

And when I talk with them, they had a deeper appreciation for the games they've been planting and the websites they've been visiting now that they know all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make that possible. So it really opens up their understanding of the world around them in ways I don't think they expected.

Bruce:
Yeah, absolutely. It's funny, you know, this generation is really known digital natives using technology, playing games, using apps, phones. I think what these classes have really done is unlocked a vision of, what does it look like to actually design and develop the types of technology they're starting to use? So, you know, it's great. It's great to hear that and really understanding the science or the computer science behind, the technologies that they use.

Anthony Godfrey:
I think that is probably one of the most important goals early on, and they have the opportunity to take this class if they have a passing interest, and they just want to know more. But they also, if we continue along the path that I'd like us to, as the District, we'll have that ability to move right into a job and a profession, if that's what they would like.

Bruce:
Yeah. Yeah. That's a really great way of looking at this. This is really a pathway to jobs. One of the things that the State of Utah really identified about a year and a half ago is the demand for software developers in the State of Utah. Specifically, there's almost 7500 software development jobs that are open in 2020. So the way that we've envisioned this pathway is really generating a great deal of student interest in getting them engaged in the coding classes in middle school. And ultimately the idea is to build capacity at the higher level at high school, with the goal ultimately of helping students compete for these jobs directly from high school.

So the two classes that are being offered at the middle school or one class this year is the Creative Coding Class. Next year, that's going to extend to the second class, which is going to be a Python Programming Class. Hopefully at some point, that will lead to increasing the number of students at the high school level and really getting students that have higher depth of knowledge, level building portfolios, earning certifications, and really, preparation for ultimate workforce outcomes in this area, which is really in high demand.

Anthony Godfrey:
Of the top cities in the country, I think Utah's ranked 14th in the country in terms of demand for software developers. So yeah, really important work that's being done at the middle schools. We have some international superstar programmers on the way out through this program. Bruce, thank you for your support in making that possible.

Bruce:
Yeah, absolutely. We are happy to partner and support the district and I appreciate it.

Thanks for joining us on the super cast. Remember, education is the most important thing today.

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