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Kids learning computer code in after-school clubs - The Eagle: News

Kids learning computer code in after-school clubs

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Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2013 12:00 am

Billy Harkins, 11, is one of roughly 100 fifth- and sixth-grade students staying late after school in the computer labs. He's not in trouble. He's not staying for sports. He's staying to learn a new language, one that many adults don't even know.

He's learning to write computer code.

Cypress Grove Intermediate and Oakwood Intermediate are two College Station ISD schools testing out coding clubs to teach their students how to write code through educational coding websites such as and

Harkins and his best friend, Jerimiah Stoddart, have been attending the Cypress Grove club since the beginning of the year. The two sixth-graders are learning the basics of HTML and CSS and are hoping to move onto JavaScript.

HTML is a programming language used as a framework for designing websites, and CSS is used to style those sites. Javascript is another computer programming language, commonly used with game development.

"I just like coding," Harkins said as he clicked through his code, working through a page on web design fundamentals. "I just think it's a really cool thing, I like to do computers."

Both schools' clubs were started this year after an email blast from Texas A&M University encouraged the study of code. Both school principals pitched the idea to their staffs, and various teachers -- often with no computer coding experience -- signed up as sponsors.

"I took a coding class in high school, but it's been a while," said Joshua Zehnder, who teaches sixth-grade English at Cypress Grove. He and Robin Button, a diagnostician with the school, serve as the club sponsors and often complete a lesson on a day or two before the kids are set to meet and work on the lesson themselves.

Shawna McDermott, a sixth-grade science teacher at Oakwood, is doing the same with her students' lessons on and CodeMonster, where they are learning the basics of JavaScript through games and basic sets of coding.

"Some of the courses that took me hours to complete, I will come into coding club and will have kids complete them in 20 minutes," she said. "That shows you that they're really capable. We just have to give them the chance."

The instructors at both schools were interested in getting students involved in coding due to the strong demand in the job market. They're preparing students for jobs that don't even exist yet, McDermott said.

"It's real logic-based, and some of our kids, I like that it's teaching them code, but it's teaching them logic and problem-solving," McDermott said. "Code is awesome, but it's the problem-solving behind it that's really teaching them, it helps them in all their other core subjects."

Danil Abanov, a sixth-grader at Cypress Grove, is interested in learning an entirely different computer language, Python. He's an avid gamer, and says his father had encouraged him to learn how to program.

"Maybe in 60 years, plumbers might need to know how to program. Who knows?" Abanov said.

Both schools are using separate websites that both have the same goal: Teaching how to code through games and projects. Oakwood students also use an educational website called Edmodo, where they can interact and post questions for each other. Many of the students eagerly asked one sixth-grader, who was already able to create an animation in Powerpoint, how to create a game.

"When we're not in club, they're talking throughout the week and doing things together," McDermott said. "So they're learning from each other more so than me sometimes."

Cypress Grove's coding club meets every Tuesday for 45 minutes. The lessons are designed for about an hour, and it takes a few minutes for the students to get settled, Zehnder said, so they're progressing at a slow pace.

Oakwood's Coding Club originally started meeting on the first and third Thursday of every month, but, due to extra interest, McDermott pushed up the meetings to one every two weeks. Now they meet three times per month, she said.

By the end of this semester, Zehnder hopes to have his students be able to design their own website using HTML. By the end of the school year, the goal is to have the kids create a very simple video game using Java. McDermott would like her students to be able to write an application together using JavaScript by the end of the year.

Both sets of instructors were not expecting the level of interest students showed in this club. Each club has about 50 students and have to split their clubs into two computer labs. McDermott said she's even had to turn away seventh-graders from another school who have been interested in learning how to code because there isn't room.

Many of the students who already knew how to code got started through a game called Minecraft, which allows you to modify the computer code in order to change the game.

"Once we got those kids, they talked to some of their friends and the kids that have come back every week have really seemed to enjoy what they're doing," Zehnder said.

Harkins was one of those students who already had some basic knowledge on how to code.

"I have games on my computer and I MOD them, I mess with all the files and the coding, and I change the coding, I can mutate the game itself," he said. When he heard about the coding club, he said, "I thought it would be really cool to make, instead of just change."

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Stanley 44 posted at 9:44 am on Wed, Apr 30, 2014.

    Stanley 44 Posts: 1

    I'm glad to see children learning to code. I think that it will be a great, if not neccesary skill to have in the upcoming years. I have taken several courses from LearnToProgram Media who provide online courses similar to those these children are taking. I have learned multiple programming skills and have started creating my own website. Becuase of the practical applications I have utilized I highly recommend them to anybody (even kids!). Here's a link to a free Introduction to Web Development course from LearnToProgram!

  • alexpcoleman posted at 9:24 am on Mon, Nov 25, 2013.

    alexpcoleman Posts: 1

    Couldn't agree more. As mentioned, learning to code can really strengthen your overall problem-solving skills, as it teaches you how to break down seemingly insurmountable problems into actionable steps. Those are valuable skills for anyone to possess.

    I'm very passionate about helping people learn to code. For anyone who's interested in learning to code, I'm currently writing a book, "Your First Web App", that contains a step-by-step guide to help you learn to code and build your very own, first web app, no matter what your current technical skill level. Hopefully it will help those interested in getting into the exciting world of coding!

  • elf posted at 1:13 pm on Sun, Nov 24, 2013.

    elf Posts: 1406

    The real story here is the fact that our teachers are willing to spend the large number of extra hours making this opportunity available, and that our school board and administration is willing to spend the money to make the resources available. Cudos to all of you.

  • v008370 posted at 1:13 pm on Sun, Nov 24, 2013.

    v008370 Posts: 1

    What an absolutely superb idea. Another resource I'd highly recommend is It's a superb site for the beginner to learn how to code.


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