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2014

At LSUS, Kindergartners can code!

September 28, 2014


Today's world is the world of technology. However, only a fraction of us learn about exciting and in-demand field called computer science. There is no doubt that programming literacy for today's children is as important as learning the ABCs and phonics or being able to read and write. If we want our children to be prepared to compete for the jobs of the 21st century in which software jobs outnumber the students in 3 to 1 ratio, we need to teach them how to effectively communicate with electronic devices from just recently announced Apple Watch to the largest computers that can perform over 30 quadrillion floating point operations per second. The projected gap of about 1 million jobs over 10 years requires that we move beyond of being simple technology consumers to sophisticated technology producers. England is leading the way by becoming the first country in the world with mandated computer programming in primary and secondary schools, teaching children age five to sixteen how to program as a national priority. Recent articles "Adding Coding to the Curriculum" published in The New York Times and "Teaching our children to code: a quiet revolution" by The Telegraph stress the importance of computer science in elementary schools, in particular programming/coding.

South Highlands Elementary Magnet (SHEM) kindergarten classes experienced a unique hands-on programming instruction organized by LSU Shreveport (LSUS) faculty Dr. Urška Cvek and Dr. Marjan Trutschl and their computer science students Steven Burke, Ryan Hammontree and Kenneth Smith. They successfully showed that even kindergartners can program. They utilized the concepts from code.org, a national non-profit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools and increasing participation by women and other underrepresented minorities.

SHEM Principal Mrs. Mary Harris as well as the kindergarten teachers were very supportive of this endeavor and welcomed the LSUS team into the SHEM classrooms. The students were first paired-up with one of their classmates, forming teams. Each team received an iPad preloaded with the Lightbot app, a programming puzzle presented as a learning game that teaches the students about the programming concepts. The Lightbot robot understands five basic commands: turn left, turn right, move forward, jump and light up a tile. By combining these commands, the children were able to program the robot to perform tasks such as walk along a well-defined path and illuminate a tile or a series of tiles in a finite number of steps. As they progressed through the puzzles, they were introduced to repetitions or loops where sequences of steps were combined in functions and reused throughout the puzzle in a divide and conquer manner. Most children quickly picked up on the concepts and zoomed through the puzzles. They were engaged in the app and showed their excitement as each puzzle was completed.

Drs. Cvek Trutschl is looking forward to the repeat of the activity next December. Currently they are working along with their students on a computer programming after-school activity at SHEM scheduled to begin this semester. Dr. Urška Cvek and Dr. Marjan Trutschl are members of the Department of Computer Science at LSU Shreveport where they head the Laboratory for Advanced Biomedical Informatics (LABi). LABi represents the foundation of biomedical informatics activities at LSU Shreveport and provides an academic and research environment where faculty, researchers and students from a wide range of fields work shoulder-to-shoulder, solving real-life problems. The researchers at LABi are utilizing powerful computers (a.k.a., supercomputers) with the ultimate goal of turning complex and diverse data sets into valuable knowledge that enhances the understanding, prevention, and treatment of diseases. LABi is located in Technology Center on a beautiful LSUS campus. Visitors are always welcome.
Professors Urška Cvek, Sc.D., MBA and Professor Marjan Trutschl, Sc.D., can be contacted at ucvek@lsus.edu and/or mtrutsch@lsus.edu or by calling (318)795-4266 and/or (318)797-5131.

Photos:
1. Mrs. Anita Vailes' class of "whales" engaged in the activity.
2. Mrs. Jennifer Ash's class of "ashtronauts" with the LSUS faculty and students in the background.
3. Lightbot app screen with the user interface showing the robot moving down the path. 

 
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