Binary by plastic fish. Programmed instructions by blindfold.
It was an unconventional way to teach the young Auburn-Washburn USD 437 students about the basics of computer science.
But then again, there’s nothing too conventional about computer science kids to begin with, said Haley Schmitz.
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Schmitz is Washburn Rural High School’s computer science teacher and adviser to its Computer Science Honor Society, which she said is a ragtag group of nine high schoolers interested in potentially pursuing careers in the subject.
The group held its first ever Coding Carnival on Tuesday evening to help celebrate Computer Science Education Week and introduce more young children to the various and interesting concepts and applications of computer science in everyday life.
“At that age, it’s really important that they know computer science is out there, especially with how much technology is changing,” Schmitz said. “Computer scientists and coders are needed now more than ever, and by exposing them to those careers that young, they know about those possibilities and they can start becoming engaged.”
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The honor society students took charge of the planning and hosting the event, Schmitz said, and they created various activities for all elementary grade levels to enjoy.
At one station, participants pulled plastic fish out of a small tub and then translated numbers on them into their equivalent in binary. At another station, the high school students taught their younger counterparts how to program instructions by blindfolding one of them and having others feed them instructions to walk through a maze taped to the floor.
“It helps them start thinking about how they can apply step-by-step processes to other parts of their life,” said Tej Patel, a junior in Computer Science Honor Society.
Sophomore Max Kuhlmann said he joined the honor society out of a passion for the subject, and it’s an interest he hoped he can help stoke in the generation of students after him.
“It’s good to develop interest and show them that coding is useful, and they can do a lot with it,” he said.
Bodie Elwell, a fourth-grader, was one of nearly 100 children registered for the event, and he said that a lot of the activities almost seemed like video games to him. His mother, Katie Elwell, had brought him to the free Coding Carnival as a way to explore potential careers, even from a young age.
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It means more when that kind of experience comes from someone who looks like the elementary students’ big brothers or sisters, rather than an adult, Katie Elwell said.
“It’s just really neat that the high schoolers put so much time into this,” she said. “I know it’s a lot of work to do something like this, but I think USD 437 does a good job of having these kinds of opportunities and letting the high schoolers share their interests and experiences with the little ones.”
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.