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Parents, students explore computer programming at intermediate school

OCEAN CITY — Some students at Ocean City Intermediate School taught their parents a lesson last week.

A little more than a dozen families of parents and students gathered at the school Tuesday night, Dec. 6, to program digital games using coding, according to OCIS computer science teacher Maureen Baldini.

In what the school called “Family Coding Night,” students and families worked together to program a game that can be used as an app on a smart phone or tablet.

The activity was part of “Computer Science Week” at the school, in which students also took part in one-hour coding sessions with Baldini in school. Representatives from The Franklin Institute also paid a visit to the school on Monday, Dec. 5, to discuss and demonstrate a number of topics in physics such as motion, force and kinetic energy.

Baldini, in her first year teaching at the school, also said the coding is part of recent emphasis on learning using a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum.

In the coding night, some families worked with a program based off the popular Angry Birds game. Students can also program droids when they create their own Star Wars game, or they can create their own version of Minecraft, she said.

“There are about 15 different levels. They start out really easy” but they get more difficult as the activity progresses, Baldini said.

Baldini said the players use the program by dragging and dropping blocks embedded with java script code. The blocks are labeled with a certain command, such as move forward, turn right, turn left and play a sound, she said.

Students in all grade levels at OCIS, from fourth to eighth grade, tried out the program in school, she said.

“I root through the programs to see which ones are appropriate for each grade level,” she said, adding that programs are labeled at beginner, intermediate or advanced difficulties.

Baldini said that for the coding sessions, she uses Scratch, a free program developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) media lab, and code.org, another free program.

She also said it was interesting to see the parents and the kids working together during the coding night. Students who have already tried their hand at this whole coding thing were teaching their parents throughout, she said.

“I saw the parents frustrated at times,” she said. “You get to the easy levels and they look at me like, ‘Why are we here?’ You get to level 10 or so and the character was not meeting their destination.

“For a lot of parents, the turn-left and turn-right blocks were confusing them, which made them even more mad because they know the difference between left and right.”

However, she said she spoke to parents who were excited about their children exploring the technology.

“The parents see the need for it, which I think is really important,” she said.

Several parents emailed Baldini to say they couldn’t attend last week’s session, but that they wanted to come out to another one, she said.

Although she wasn’t planning on it initially, Baldini said she may hold another family coding session in the spring.

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