In the Marana Middle School cafeteria, dozens of parents and teachers gather around to see their students’ latest projects. These projects demonstrate the students’ creativity and intelligence, however this style of project hardly existed at all when the adults were in school. Yet now, the field they belong to dominates the world: Computer science. 

This all took place at Epic Build showcase on Dec. 13, an event where students get to show off their computer coding skills in the form of interactive programs they created. 

“Some of the programs these students came up with were so creative,” said Mike Tinghitella, associate principal of Marana Middle School. “These kids go in directions I could never even comprehend.”

One student designed an interactive encyclopedia of Civil War facts, while others made simple, addicting games like the ones you’d find on your phone. Another student made a detailed break-down of the cell, with every part clickable and descriptive. The Epic Build showcase also included a raffle, in which the grand prize was a fully controllable robot the winner could program from their phone.

“They’re just so excited,” Tinghitella said. “It’s not so much a competition as a celebration.” 

The Epic Build showcase is the result of a semester-long program where students design their own computer programs in an elective coding class. The middle school students learn how to code and at the same time, design programs relevant to subjects in their curriculum.

“Students are taught a comprehensive curriculum where computer science is integrated with content in English Language Arts, math, science and social studies to create an engaging, interactive and fun learning environment,” said Tamara Crawley, Marana Unified School District director of public relations.

“It’s not that they aren’t learning the same things they’ve always been,” Tinghitella said. “It’s that now they’re understanding it at such a deeper level.”

Much like how there’s a clear difference in understanding between hearing a lecture, versus writing a lecture down, versus being able to retell a lecture, being able to create a computer program based on a subject is a demonstrably more complete and powerful understanding of it.

Marana Middle School embraced the program when, on a trip to San Diego, the administrative staff saw the coding program of Emerald Middle School. In August 2017, Marana Middle School also partnered with Code To The Future to integrate computer science into various classes, as well as provide a semester-long elective opportunity for all middle school students.

“Marana is on track to become a national leader for computer science education, and is the first district in the state of Arizona to provide its students with a computer science initiative of this quality and scope,” said Andrew Svehaug, CEO of Code To The Future, in a press release.

Not only does this help the students have a deeper understanding of their subjects, it also gives them valuable and marketable skills for the exploding field of computer science.

“When our students are ready to enter the job market, they’ll be 99 percent more prepared than other students in the field of coding,” Tinghitella said. “We’re already preparing our students for jobs, they’re so far ahead.”

While this is only the first year Marana Middle School hosted the Epic Build showcase, with some 400 people at the event, it was such a success that they have another planned for next semester and another for next school year as well. In addition, they are also offering a “Girls that Code” after school program.

“The kids really just ran with it,” Tinghitella said. “And I’m sure next semester’s will be just as great.”

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