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Students cracking the coding

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Great time: student Khira-Milan Smith and ConnecTech founder Coral Wells (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Khira-Milan Smith was overjoyed when she was chosen for a coding club at St George’s Preparatory School.

There was only room for 20 students, so names had to be pulled from a hat.

“I was like, I hope my name gets chosen. I hope it gets chosen,” the nine-year-old said.

It wasn’t until her name was picked that she started to wonder what coding actually was. She’d been so caught up in the excitement of the lottery, she hadn’t asked.

“I thought I would go along to the class and find out,” she said.

Technology education firm ConnecTech was offering the club. Khira-Milan wasn’t that excited when she learnt she’d signed up for computer programming.

When she discovered she would be creating games, “I was like ‘yeah’!”

The club started in eight primary schools in January. Aimed at children aged 7 and older, it allows them to manipulate images or “sprites” on a screen and match sounds to them. Scratch, the programme they use, also makes simple games.

At a review session on Monday, Khira-Milan was able to answer all of the instructor’s questions.

“We already learnt this stuff,” she said. “That’s why we did all that practising, so you could just go to the programme and make a fabulous game.”

Coral Wells is thrilled that her company is giving students a head start in a subject that isn’t part of the curriculum for government primary schools.

“It should be,” she said. “Over in Europe, there are children who are 9 and 10 years old developing apps. We have some amazing children in our system. Why not start them early?”

By the time students have access to such programmes in high school, it’s way too late, Ms Wells said.

“By 14 and 15, children start to fall away from our programmes. We see only the diehard programmers and gamers. We thought we needed to get them interested much earlier.”

Opportunity came with a grant from Hamilton Insurance Group; ConnecTech provided the necessary laptops.

The club runs for a single term before it switches to eight different primary schools. When it swings back to the first group, a new set of children will have the opportunity to take part.

“If students find they really like coding, they can always take part in after-school programmes at ConnecTech,” Ms Wells said.

“We’re also hoping that teachers will take part in the lunchtime classes in the schools, and then be able to continue with it in the classroom. Scratch could be incorporated into many different lesson plans.”

So far, enthusiasm has been high.

At St George’s Preparatory School, 11-year-olds Jared Franklin and Sage DeSouza turn up for the Monday club at least ten minutes early.

“It’s really fun,” said Jared.

Reese Morbey came into the club already familiar with Scratch.

“My older brother Riley got a book and taught himself how to do it,” the nine-year-old said. “He taught me how to do a few things and I really liked it. I wanted to learn more.”

She was excited when she heard there would be a coding club at school.

“Not a lot of people in my class wanted to do it because you would be doing this instead of playing outside,” she said. “But I thought if I learnt all of this stuff I could make something that nobody else in my class could. People in my class might think it is boring, but it has really taught me something.”

Beforehand, she had no idea how computer games were created.

“I thought people drew game characters on paper and then scanned the image and transferred it to the computer,” she said. “I now know it’s done through programming.”

When she grows up she hopes to become a singer or an actor. She doesn’t think they’re that different from coding.

“They all allow you to express yourself,” she said.

Tristan Burgess found the club really exciting once he learnt how to move his sprite on the screen.

“The instructor wanted us to change the speed of the sprite and suddenly it was bouncing all over the screen,” said the 9-year-old who is now teaching his mother how to code.

“It’s really fun.”

At 8, Kiley White is one of the younger children in the group. She felt a little intimidated at the start.

“My brain was going all crazy because I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Now I have gotten used to moving the blocks around the screen. Now I just look on the board and do it myself. It is really easy now.”

Ms Wells’s dream is that with the basics covered in primary school, ConnecTech will be able to start its programmes at a higher level.

“That way we can jump right into JavaScript and app building,” she said. “The way the world is going, this is something they can use as they develop a career. In the summer we will be offering a class in blockchain, depending on interest.”

Learn more at www.connectech.bm

Coding instructor Zärá Cardell helps St George’s Preparatory School student London Wilson with her coding (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Coding instructors: Zärá Cardell, left, Coral Wells and Tinashe Seremwe (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
St George’s Preparatory School student Khira-Milan Smith was a little hesitant about coding at first, but now loves it (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
St Georges Preparatory students Sage DeSouza and Jared Franklin enjoying the new coding club at the school (Photograph by Akil Simmons)