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Third grade students at Canadochly Elementary School take coding classes, a move that teachers and administrators say will prepare them for the future. Wochit

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At Canadochly Elementary School in East Prospect, third graders in Joseph Zahora’s computer coding class were hard at work moving around color-coded blocks of commands at their computers on Thursday, Dec. 7.

One of the goals for students included programming a line of code that would move a cartoon artist with a large pencil around a hexagon until the artist traced in six triangles within the shape.

Persistence: The task might sound simple, but coming up with the right string of commands, angle turns and repetition at the right points, takes some trial and error —  similar to solving a puzzle — and Zahora saw the frustration from students firsthand.

“A lot of them tend to give up quickly at this age,” he said, but over the past three months, since an enhanced computer science program took effect, Zahora has seen a notable increase in persistence — with success — from students.

Many schools in York County and across the country held events celebrating Computer Science Education Week Dec. 4-10, but at Eastern York, along with a growing number of York County school districts, every week is Computer Science Education Week.

Zahora is Eastern York School District’s first elementary technology teacher, a role he started in this school year.

The new role arose when Eastern York School District administrators decided to implement a computer science program for K-5 students starting in August.

Zahora travels to each of Eastern’s three elementary schools — Canadochly, Kreutz Creek and Wrightsville — and teaches new coding challenges and techniques.

In the spring, Zahora plans to have students program robots with the knowledge they’ve learned.

'A language': “Coding and programming is a literacy that is just as important as reading and writing,” Eastern York Assistant Superintendent Rita Becker said.

“For today’s world, it is a language that needs to be taught.”

Becker and Wrightsville Elementary School Principal Doug Enders attended a workshop last spring arranged by Code.org, a nonprofit organization that aims to bring more computer science curriculum into classrooms.

The workshop solidified Becker's commitment to bringing computer science programming to the school, she said.

Eastern York utilizes computer science courses provided by Code.org at no charge for its K-5 program.

Some lessons include videos from prominent individuals from Silicon Valley, including Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, as well as typical students providing tips on how to master an assignment.

Rowan Miller, a Wrightsville Elementary school fourth-grader, spoke before the Eastern York School Board in November and told members that though it is challenging to avoid making mistakes, she finds the program to be an overall fun exercise.

Although the course uses a color-coded graphic interface, it is based on the hundreds, even thousands of line of code that are written in programming languages such as C++, Python and Javascript.

Enders said he is excited about the problem-solving abilities students can attain by coding.

“We do a lot of growth mindset stuff with them — to just learn and move forward,” he said. “This curriculum helps the students with that.”

The future: Computer science learning doesn’t end there — students at Eastern York Middle School have an after-school coding club as well as a lunch club.

At Eastern York High School, students have several programs to choose from that use coding and programming, including a robotics class, an engineering class and classes related to design and architecture.

Eastern's investment into computer science is still ongoing.

In August, the Eastern York school board unanimously approved a measure proposed by Becker to develop a blended cyber and brick-and-mortar program that would keep students from leaving the district for cyber schools and incorporate Informational Technology courses to prepare students for the increasingly connected workforce.

The Cyber Academy Technology program is scheduled to begin in the 2018-19 school year.

According to Code.org, there are nearly 490,000 computing jobs unfilled in the United States while about 43,000 students graduated in 2016 with a computer science degree.

A county-level nationwide study from Ball State University published in July estimates that about 57 percent of jobs in York County are at risk of relative automation.

Enders said the utility of coding transcends career fields, preparing students for the future.

“Some of these students may end up in careers or fields that don’t use coding, but I think they can help the company with a problem because they understand coding,” he said.

“You’re just giving kids another tool in their tool belt.”

— Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez at jgonzalez@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @EducationYD.

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