Lower School Computer Science Classes Utilize New Programs in the Classroom

Computer Science teacher Mary Murray-Jones writes about utilizing new programs such as Code.org in the Lower School Computer Science lab. 

By Mary Murray-Jones, LS Computer Science teacher

Promote the Hilltop as a Learning Hub’ is a pillar of our strategic plan Redefining Excellence: Learning Beyond Boundaries. Since the plan launched in 2018, faculty and administrators have asked “how can we accomplish this goal across divisions?” In the computer science department, we have redesigned our curriculum using programs such as Code.org to shift from light skills-based training to intensive code programming. In a safe and supportive environment, students are learning to apply computer science concepts like problem-solving, logical thinking, cause and effect, and computational thinking to other aspects of their lives.

Using the lessons in Code.org, a program created by Hackley alumni Hadi and Ali Partovi ‘90, our Lower School students are working as computer programmers, applying the vocabulary and programming skills they have learned, and using their creative strengths to solve the problems and challenges presented in class. Our young students are learning to use concepts such as loops and variables, and they are making connections by discovering how recipes and instructions on a worksheet can be considered an algorithm and how the if-then logic is also mathematical and can exist in social situations. 
Our youngest learners, kindergarten and first grade students, are discovering how to navigate their Chromebook device while supporting the development of their fine motor skills—clicking and dragging, and more. Second to fourth grade students are exploring and developing internet safety skills. Throughout their lower school years, students learn what a digital footprint is, and how the information they post can become a "trail” with possibly good and bad effects.
With the use of programs such as Code.org and Scratch—a block-based visual programming language and website developed by the MIT Media Lab for young coders—Lower School students are investigating debugging and problem-solving techniques in computer science, and understanding how those skills are applicable beyond the classroom.
The process of changing one aspect of a non-functioning computer program at a time until a solution is found, or persevering when faced with difficult tasks, are skills that go beyond computer science. We are putting computer science into a perspective that our youngest learners can comprehend—looking at the process of washing hands as an algorithm, and demonstrating how computer programming is a creative art.
My curriculum has changed over the years to reflect current practices in educational technology; introducing these new programs and concepts to Lower School students has been the most rewarding experience. Students are eager to learn how to add to their Scratch program or continue programming their Dance Party. When I announce “we are continuing with coding” at the start of a class, there is usually unanimous cheer among the students. It’s gratifying when students come to class excited to tell me they showed their parents their Scratch project or coding puzzles. 

Experiencing computer science in these unique ways, and with the use of new programs, speaks directly to Redefining Excellence, elevating forms of creative expression and the creative arts—visual, performing, and digital, and inspiring the teaching and learning of the creative arts process.