CHS Students Help Plan Family Coding Night

n March 9, 2017, elementary school families gathered at El Roble to participate in an event called Family Coding Night. Family Coding Night was planned by the Claremont Educational Foundation (CEF) and took place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the El Roble MPR and several other classrooms. CEF contacted Cheryl Fiello, the CUSD Coordinator of Educational Technology, to organize the event. Around 50 elementary students and parents showed up to learn coding basics and explore the world of computer science.

For the past three or four years, Fiello had also organized other coding activities, like the Hour of Code, an activity in which students code for an hour. Because of the success that blossomed from this program, CEF was impressed and wanted to further spread the word about coding. CEF came up with Family Coding Night, an event where elementary parents would accompany their children and learn how to code together.

“There is a great need to promote coding and computer science in our schools. We want to grow [the need for coding] and build that capacity, and the best way to do that is to get students and parents interested in it,” Fiello said.

Fiello selected the same group of CHS students that taught the Hour of Code to help her plan the event. Junior Phillip Donnelly, sophomore Frances O’Leary, and freshmen Eden Yu, Naphtali Teran, and Simoné Murguia assisted Fiello in creating different sessions. The planning group created a PowerPoint presentation for the introduction of the event and each slide was each group’s “elevator pitch” to try and sell their session to the audience.

After the introduction, five sessions took place at the same time. Students, accompanied by their parents, had the freedom to choose which sessions they wanted to attend, and dispersed to their classrooms. Erik Dahl, a fifth grade teacher at Chaparral Elementary School, led a session on Mindstorm robots with five of his students. Donnelly led his session on the programming platform Scratch, created by MIT. Yu, Teran, Murguia, and O’Leary taught their session on the programming platform for iOS, Swift Playgrounds. Jennifer Jensen, a third grade teacher at Condit Elementary School, led a session on Sphero, a robotic ball controlled by an app. Seven of her students ran the session along with her. The last session was organized by the STEM Center USA, a robotics learning center in Claremont, and involved building hands-on projects.

“It was really important to have this run by students for students,” Fiello said. “For the elementary students, we made sure they had a teacher that was coaching them, but when it came to the high school led sessions, we let them run solo without a teacher.”

In each classroom, the session leaders gave brief introductions and went step-by-step through their programs. Students listened attentively and were set free to start coding or building afterwards. The session leaders went around and guided each student.

“I volunteered to teach the kids because I love programming and think that early exposure to computer science is wonderful and necessary in our world today,” O’Leary said. “Seeing them work through the problems and then having that moment of realization as to how they could solve it was very rewarding and made it worthwhile.”

Family Coding Night was a definite success and had a larger turnout than expected. CEF is hoping to organize another coding night in the future like this one at a high school level. Exposure to technology can be a great experience for younger students, as technology is where the world is headed today.