Two Marana Unified School District elementary schools are among the first to become Computer Science Immersion Schools in the state of Arizona.

Students had the opportunity last week to share what they have learned with their parents, other students and district administrators.

Gladden Farms and Quail Run Elementary schools students hosted their first computer science Epic Build Showcases, which allowed them to demonstrate their computer coding skills and show off the projects they have been working on since the beginning of the school year.

Older students made keynote presentations where they not only explained how they have implemented coding into their schools, but the importance of computer science in today’s workforce. During the presentation, it was noted that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million new jobs in computer science but that currently only about 400,000 students are studying computer science.

“Our vision is to prepare students to change the world through technology,” said Andrew Svehaug, CEO of Code To The Future, the company partnering with MUSD to provide the program.

Parents were then able to go to their children’s classrooms to learn more about the projects they have been working on since the beginning of the year. In addition, they were able to observe older students present to younger students, shining a light on what future projects they will be working on as they get older.

“This is a great celebration of learning for them,” Svehaug said. “They have been working hard to create these Epic Builds. This is their opportunity to showcase their learning to their parents and for their parents to be blown away by what kids as young as kindergarten can do.”

Parents were impressed with not only what they saw at school that day, but what they see at home as well.

“It is amazing,” said Karissa Jerrettie, the parent of a kindergartner at Gladden Farms Elementary. “My son is in kindergarten and he is doing more on the computer than I could ever imagine that he could.”

Jerrettie said her son comes home and wants to do more coding on his own and is enthusiastic about going to school.

“It is amazing the kids are so excited to show what they are learning, which makes them even more excited to learn it,” Jerrettie said.

That has been a side benefit to the program. Students who struggle in more traditional academic pursuits have become inspired by the program, which taps into a variety of skills and learning styles.

“We look at computer science, of which coding is a part of, as a vehicle for student engagement and for making the rest of their core content areas much more engaging,” Svehaug said.

He added that some students “who were not traditionally excited” about subjects like math or language get engaged when computer science is integrated into those areas.

Gladden Farms Principal Nancy Paddock said there are many examples of students who have previously struggled academically thriving under the new programming and finding working with computers to be a great motivation.

Students began working on Chromebooks at the start of the school year. Teachers were given instruction on the program before classes started and each school has a coach that comes in every week to give support to both the students and the teachers.

“The Marana Unified School District is honored to lead the way in capitalizing on computer science’s potential as a teaching tool,” said MUSD Superintendent Doug Wilson. “Students at these schools have the opportunity to develop coding skills as part of the daily curriculum within an environment that fosters enthusiasm around learning.”

The partnership comes as schools around the country are just starting to use computer science technology. Programs and games such as Scratch, Block Coding, LEGO, Robotics, Syntax, Java and Minecraft are all utilized to help students learn everything from math to language skills. The intent is to transition students from being just game players to being creators.

One of the things that has surprised many of those involved was just how fast the students have taken to coding and learning how to create their projects.

“It has been exciting,” said Paddock. “It has surpassed what we knew students could learn so quickly.”

Students are learning coding techniques that are normally reserved for high school or beyond.

“One of the things we are really excited about is that they are learning Java and text based programming as early as 4th or 5th grade, which traditionally has not been taught until high school,” Svehaug said. “These kids are really getting an advantage and an accelerated opportunity so that no matter what opportunities they may or may not have in college, they are going to be on a trajectory for the high-growth, high-demand jobs of the future after high school.”

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