Reiley Bratton-Mann stared intently at three animated characters moving across the Chromebook screen.
"It's an underwater dance," the second-grader said as one figure moved around a picture of a fish. "This is fun. There're cool things on here, and you can do anything you can think up."
Reiley is a student at Paw Creek Elementary, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) school that this year began computer-science immersion with a focus on coding. The school will be one of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' partial-magnet programs next year, adding 180 seats and providing more options for students in the violet and blue transportation zones.
"The great thing about coding is that it connects with students at their level of excitement and they are a lot more engaged," said second-grade teacher Jayme Terry. "With the knowledge they already have, they pick it up quicker than the teacher can teach it. A lot of them go home and create projects so they can show what they know."
The coding program is the result of a partnership with Code to the Future, which provides the school with coaches and curriculum. Coding was a logical subject to teach students, who will move on to Coulwood STEM Academy after fifth grade, said Paw Creek Principal Danielle Belton.
"It was an exciting opportunity to begin this work this year," Belton said. "In the next few years, there will be a 1 million-job gap in the computer-science field. Our students are learning critical thinking, problem solving -- skills for the jobs of the future."
Coding involves developing and writing scripts for computer programs. Kindergartners begin with such projects as writing code to animate their names, while fifth-graders animate more advanced concepts. There is much collaboration between different grade levels. Freedom to be creative is paramount. Students are given information to incorporate into their projects but have free rein with what they design and deliver.
Students have dedicated computer science time each week and it is embedded in lessons throughout the day. A robotics club also meets weekly after school where students are beginning to build Lego robots controlled by computer codes. There are also Epic Build events where students show their projects to their parents and others in CMS and the community.
Third-grader Donovan Robinson said he works on projects at home because it's fun.
"You can make anything you want, and sometimes my mom tries it with me at home," he said, adding that he usually ends up being the teacher.
Students really relish knowing more than their parents. "But parents love it because they've never seen them come home excited about school," Terry said. "Now it's not something they have to ask about – their kids tell them."
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