Lexi Benson, an eighth-grader at Hastings Middle School, was trying to figure out how to make tense, synthetic music play while people played with her steady hand tester. She had already programmed a beep to play when the hand tool — a pen with copper wire sticking through and forming a loop — touched the copper wire suspended between two pieces of wood. A celebration sound played when someone made it to the end.
After 45 minutes of tape and more copper wire, she set up her game by having a start button on a computer to play the music.
Lexi made her project during the Hastings Middle School coding club, a twice-a-week summer program put together by Terry Julian, Hastings Public Schools technology facilitator. The club teaches kids how to code and experiment with different methods to achieve the result they want.
Thursday was the last day for the coding club this summer. The group made projects to present at the Hastings Middle School’s open house on Aug. 12.
During the club, kids use a small computer called a “makey makey.” The makey makey kit comes with wires and a USB connector that attaches to a computer. The kids then use Scratch, an online toolkit of preset commands, to code their project. Through Scratch, kids can make a specific action happen, like two pieces of wire touch.
The HMS Coding Club originally was started as “Girls Who Code,” but Julian said a few boys were interested and she didn’t want to stop anyone learning how to code. About four people went through the summer coding program.
Lexi has been coding since fifth grade with her elementary group. She said she wants to be a robotics technician when she grows up.
“It’s fun and interesting,” Lexi said. “I’m not set on one thing right now but this is something I like.”
While Lexi worked on her steady hand test, Beckett Hoshaw, a third-grader, worked on making piano. He laid pieces of tin foil on a piece of cardboard and set them in place with tape. Whenever someone touched a key, the makey makey detected the touch and told the computer to play a key.
There is a coding club at Beckett’s elementary school, but he said he wants to come to the middle school club.
“I want to come here because it’s harder,” Beckett said.
Julian is working to make coding more present in public schools because knowing how to code is becoming more important. She started the program after attending a Nebraska Educational Technology Association conference.
“I kept hearing about the need for coders and computer science and the ways that it develops kids with analytical thinking, problem solving and creativity,” Julian said.
After a few attempts starting coding clubs at elementary schools and the middle school, the clubs had difficulty staying alive because too few educators knew how to code, let alone teach it.
“During the school year, we just kind of dabbled in different stuff. With Girls Who Code, you’re supposed to come up with a project for your community, but we didn’t know enough about coding to get anything done,” Julian said.
This summer, Julian took a different approach and brought in CS First, a free coding toolkit made by Google. The CS First curriculum had daily projects and was structured to be more engaging for the students, she said.
With the program finishing up for the summer, Julian has seen the students grow more confident and creative. She said the kids now are able to solve problems themselves once they start a project.
“It’s bad when they’re smarter than you are,” Julian said.
Julian helps teach some coding to first- and second-graders with more other free programing software. The feedback has been positive and teachers have begun introducing coding on their own volition.
“I’ve been in at least two classrooms where teachers have gotten tears in their eyes and said ‘This student doesn’t get it in any other subject, and they’re over here helping other kids with their coding,’ ” Julian said.
Julian she would like to see the club grow and more groups like theirs get started in the community
“My dream is to get more opportunities in the community for anyone to learn how to do it, because it is such a needed field, and people seem to really enjoy it,” she said.