Elementary school students were given lessons on the basics of computer coding at a three-week coding camp this summer. The program gives them a head-start on activities they will be doing in middle school. Above, Malachi Mytil (going into fifth-grade at School No. 4), David Kahiga (Grade 3, School No. 4), Henry Zuniga (Grade 3, School No. 2) use an Apple iPad to code the Meebot robot. Below, Alivia Collier (Grade 6, McManus), Giana Collado (Grade 6, McManus), Caela Jones (daughter of teacher Jennifer DeTrolio-Jones), and Laila Slater Halsey (Grade 6, McManus) taking turns working with Sphero robot.

four girls in coding camp

By Gary Miller

Elementary school students from around Linden got a chance to step into the future this summer.

Linden Public Schools held a three-week computer coding camp at the LHS Academy of Science and Technology to teach students going into Grades 3 through 6 the basics of coding. The aim is to prepare them for what is coming up, whether it be their entry into the robust technology program at the middle-school level or the expanded technology curriculum that will begin at the elementary schools in September.

 “It’s the future, so we feel the more exposure we can give them, the better,” said Leah Push, a technology teacher at Soehl Middle School, who is overseeing the camp along with Jennifer DeTrolio-Jones, a technology teacher at McManus Middle School. “Coding is up and coming.”

Twenty-three students registered for the camp, which ran four days a week from July 9 to July 26. Push and DeTrolio-Jones said response from parents has been enthusiastic.

“The day after the email went out, we were completely filled up,” DeTrolio-Jones said. “We were turning kids away.”

Students are learning coding – sets of instructions to tell a computer how to do a specific task – by using Apple iPads and small robots called Meebot and Sphero. Meebot can be made to walk, dance or wave his arms based on coding that students program. Sphero is a round robot about the size of a tennis ball, that rolls on the ground based on commands the student give it, either by remote control or coding.

students in coding camp classroom

Students take turns moving Sphero through an obstacle course.

On a recent day at the coding camp, students were using Sphero to paint on a large sheet of paper. They would roll it through a glob of paint, then make designs on the paper with the trail of paint Sphero left behind.

“They like it,” Push said as she watched the students. “Who wouldn’t like to do something like this? I like to do it!”

Then to the student at the controls, she said, “See if you can make a circle. That’s awesome for your first time. It’s not easy to do, right?”

With the middle school coding lessons going into their second year, and with the elementary school technology curriculum expanding, coding will soon be on more parents’ radar.

“I don’t think a lot of the elementary parents realized this was available at the middle schools,” Push said. “I think that will change next year because of the additions at the elementary schools. There will be more exposure to different technology. They’re going to be doing coding, and learning how to make Apple iMovies and all that.”

Push said that next summer they hope to expand the camp to accommodate more students. The aim is to have three one-week sessions, and divide students up by grade level and ability.

“We’re excited about doing it,” she said. “This is where it is today. Technology is ever-changing and we’re trying to keep up with it. It gets me excited to teach it, to see the excitement in them.”

meebot and sphero

Meebot, left, dancing, and Sphero painting.