St. Pius V students having fun with computer science

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PROVIDENCE — St. Pius V School second-grader, Jules Costello, 7, cheers after successfully completing a coding program on “ScratchJr,” an educational iPad application. His classmates, Taylor Excellent, 8, and Sofia DiMascio, 7, smile as they work together to solve a similar task.

“It’s fun,” Costello said as he navigates a computerized character on an iPad.

Isabella Teixeira, 7, agrees.

“We get to do all these fun things on the apps,” she said, noting that they also regularly use Kodable, another application.

Aside from learning while enjoying themselves, they are taking part in an Hour of Code, a worldwide activity implemented by Code.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding student involvement in computer science. The movement aims to make technology available in more schools, as well as increase participation by females and underrepresented students of color.

The event was held in honor of Computer Science Education Week, which took place throughout the globe last month. Its goal is not only to motivate more children and teens to be involved in computer science education, but influence their parents and teachers, as well.

“Teachers can do more integrated lessons in the curriculum to use the technology in the classroom with what they are already doing,” said Sister Mary Veronica Keller, O.P., principal of St. Pius V. “The kids are so excited and enthusiastic.”

According to the Computer Science Education Week website at CSEDWeek.org, more than 82,334,160 people have participated in an Hour of Code. Sister Mary Veronica is pleased her students shared the experience.

“At St. Pius V, we believe that exposing students to computer science through activities such as [this] will not only better prepare students for the workplace, but more essentially help them improve their higher-level thinking skills, and thus become better critical and analytical thinkers,” she said.

This school year, she went on to say, the school was blessed to introduce new technology into the classroom. Through a generous donation made by the Fallon family, parishioners of St. Pius V who recently passed away, they acquired 32 Chromebooks and 30 iPads.

While an iPad is a touchscreen tablet computer, a Chromebook is a laptop that runs Chrome OS as its operating system. As more employers find that students do not have required technology skills, enhanced computer science education with tools like iPads and Chromebooks becomes increasingly important.

“Kids already know how to play games, but if they can learn how to code their own programs, they are going to be better equipped for the future world,” said St. Pius V technology teacher, Nora Malachowski. “There are employers out there who can’t find employees because they don’t have the tech skills that they need.”

As noted, Malachowski said students used programs designed to allow them to use and develop coding skills. With Kodable, first and second graders applied directional information to move a character from one place to another, including roadblocks that force them to turn. Students in grades four through eight played Angry Birds with a variety of instructions to move characters, while other programs implement JavaScript, or programming language, that’s written behind the scenes.

“The enthusiasm was over the top,” said Malachowski, who added that Pre-K and kindergarten students use iPads to enhance their reading and writing skills. “They trace letters with their finger, which will then help them when they are putting a pencil in their hand. The kids are so engaged.”

Seventh grade teacher Kevin Peloquin has witnessed the student excitement. As a teacher, the technology is a treat for him, too.

“It’s really hard to teach students how to do research if you can’t do it with them, so having a tool that they can use in the classroom is really helpful,” he said, also noting that he appreciates the sharing capabilities, as well. “[A student] could be typing something, and I can see in live time what she’s typing.”

He is also able to make virtual comments in their documents. For example, he said, students were required to work on a literature assignment during Thanksgiving recess. He made comments on Saturday, while students made their modifications by Sunday.

“Even though we’re not in the classroom for five days at a time, we can still be having a direct discussion on the web,” Peloquin said.

Students say the tools and applications are educational and entertaining. Eighth-grader Kristen Reddy, 13, is confident technological skills will come in handy in the future.

“It will better prepare us for high school because we’ll know what to do,” said Reddy.

Seventh graders feel the same. They “love” the Chromebook, which they say is making them better students both in and out of school.

“If I’m home and I have a project that I need to finish, I can access it at home from my own computer.” said Ava Mancini, 13.

Andres Velez, 13, said he likes apps that help with grammar and vocabulary, while Joseph Nocera, 13, is happy to be learning more about technology in general.

“At first, I didn’t really know how to use computers,” he said. “Since St. Pius has computers, it’s really taught me a lot.”