While some of the 280 students at Henry S. West Laboratory School get excited for early release Wednesdays, others look forward to attending their school’s coding club.
Nicolas, an 11-years-old fifth-grader, enjoys coming to the West Lab Coding Club at the Coral Gables school because he gets an opportunity to share ideas with his friends and collaborate on them.
“I like the freedom of what we can make,” said Nicolas, who now wants to become a programmer.
This is the kind of enthusiasm Erika Reed was hoping to foster.
Reed, the founder of West Lab Coding Club and a computer-science alumna from the University of Massachusetts, began the program after searching for computer-science classes for her 7-year-old daughter Sofia. Frustrated with the lack of options, Reed offered to research and develop the club in order to teach her daughter and any other students how to code.
“The response was amazing,” said Reed, who had to hire three assistants to help run a club of about 40 students. “We basically sold out in two days.”
After the kids park their book bags outside of the school’s computer lab, they log-on to Tynker.com. Reed and her assistants hand out instructions asking the students to complete certain coding tasks. Some of these tasks — giving an on-screen character behavioral orders through 15 command blocks. Once the student completes his or her assignment they are then allowed to play MIT coding math games for the remainder of the day.
According to Code.org, a website dedicated to the field of coding education for young children, only 1 out of 10 United States schools offer coding classes to their students.
“We want our children to leave here not only ready for middle school but already thinking about careers,” said Barbara R. Soto Pujadas, Henry S. West Laboratory’s principal.
“We know that the majority of our students are going to be working in fields that don’t even exist now and a lot of those fields will have to do with technology,” Pujadas said.
For Reed, teaching code at the school was twofold. Not only was it about sharing her passion for technology with the students but also getting rid of the misconception that coding is only for men.
“We think it’s important for our children, especially our young girls, to be exposed to the nontraditional areas,” Pujadas said. “One of [Reed’s] goals was to get as many young girls in the club as she could.”
Now five sessions into her club, Reed has recruited 10 girls, including her daughter Sofia — who wants to be a teacher.
“I like this stuff because you learn a lot of things and it’s fun to do,” Sofia said.
The idea that coding can be fun and not as daunting as many think has helped companies, such as Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, make a case for the inclusion of computer science in the core curriculum of the nation’s schools.
“There’s a gap in our curriculum,” Reed said. “I think that this big push coming out of Silicon Valley is now starting to really drive the dialogue.”
Problem-solving and thinking skills are some of the benefits Michael Whitney — an assistant at West Lab Code Club and a graduate of the University of Miami in elementary education — believes students receive.
“The main thing with coding is that the kids are learning skills that are going to help them in the future such as problem-solving,” Whitney, 26, said.
Finishing his coding assignment, Marco, an 8-year-old second-grader, shows his friends his creation — a dog on the moon moving across the screen that interacts with his keyboard inputs.
“I created all of this,” Marco said. “It’s amazing.”