MAXWELL — Cadance Nugent used the laptop mouse pad to situate a blue-gray cartoon squid into an ocean landscape of deep blues.
With a few more clicks, the Maxwell Intermediate School sixth-grader determined where she wanted the squid to move to in the pyramid-shaped chart, what informational text to display during the animation and whether it would play music or another sound as the character moved into place.
This week, Chad Cooper’s sixth-grade science class is one of several classes at the intermediate school participating in the Worldwide Hour of Code, a global movement encouraging all people to learn the basics of computer science and demystify coding. Maxwell Intermediate School educators chose to participate in the Hour of Code partly to celebrate National Science Education Week, but also to begin to integrate more coding and computer science into the curriculum in response to computer science standards established this year by the Indiana Department of Education.
Indiana Academic Standards have long included science and math, but when the 2016-17 school year begins, teachers and students will be required to integrate computer science skills like problem solving, understanding algorithms, demonstrating proficiency with electronic devices and using devices for problem-solving and self-directed learning into coursework, according to the Indiana Department of Education’s website.
When it comes to computer science, “code” refers to the set of instructions that dictate how a computer program works, officials said. As computer science becomes more entrenched in everyday life, Hoosier educators are tasked with making sure their students are comfortable with using technology like computers, tablets and mobile devices, and understanding how they work, according to the Indiana Department of Education website.
While students might not use coding every day in their careers, they will be required to use other computer programs and skills, officials say.
Cooper’s science class spread the Hour of Code over several 15-minute sessions this week, he said. His students, in the midst of a unit about animal populations and ecosystems, combined coding with the knowledge they’d obtained about ecosystems by creating an ecological pyramid of sea creatures, from herbivores at the bottom to predators at the tip.
The sixth-graders used the ecological pyramid program to learn how energy moves through an ecosystem by accessing code.org on their computers, which Cooper said they could do at home if they wanted to. The program mixed science topics with coding and mathematics — the students used a coordinate plane to determine where to place each animal on the pyramid.
Ethan Shannon, 12, who is also a part of Maxwell’s recently-created after school code club, enjoyed the combination of subjects the program provided.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s helping us learn about everything in it.”
Ethan said he enjoyed the way learning coding allowed the students to make changes and customize the animation.
Cadance, 12, said she also liked how the program’s different steps allowed the students to make choices about what they created. She said the ecological pyramid is her favorite coding exercise the class has done so far.
Students in the class enjoyed picking different music clips to play while the animals floated into their places on the ecological pyramid, from soft music that evoked the wonder of being underwater to bright tunes like “Old MacDonald’s Farm.”
Cooper said while the computer science standards established by the Indiana Department of Education don’t go into effect until next year, there’s no reason he and other educators can’t integrate the basics of coding into their curricula now.
“With technology advancing as fast as it is, it’s prominent to push to increase our standards,” Cooper said, adding that a perk of implementing coding lessons is being able to reach some students who are very computer-oriented.
Maxwell Intermediate Club started its first-ever computer science club this year shortly after fall break, said Michelle Smith, fifth-grade resource teacher and program coordinator. The after-school program currently has 95 members who learn how to code during before- or after-school sessions.
School officials created the club in response to higher computer science standards adopted by the Indiana Department of Education this year, which are to begin being implemented next school year, according to the Indiana Department of Education website.
Students meet Monday afternoons after school, or at 7 a.m. Wednesdays before school, Smith said.