Hour of coding helps Pleasant Knoll Elementary gets their hands on technology

Special to the Fort Mill TimesDecember 16, 2013 

— This week, Fort Mill School District students joined millions of students nationwide to celebrate National Computer Science Education Week by learning an hour of coding.

Pleasant Knoll Elementary School technology teacher Megan Mongelli was trying to think of the best way to observe the event and to introduce her students to code – the set of languages that will allow them to communicate with virtually every piece of technology around them.

“Then I remembered that some of our parents work for a little company called Microsoft,” Mongelli said.

Charlotte is home to one of Microsoft’s largest U.S. facilities, employing approximately 1,000 people in sales, consulting and support services for products including Exchange, Windows, Office, and SQL Server. Many of those employees live in neighboring areas, including Fort Mill.

“All of our students – we have approximately 800 in grades kindergarten through fifth grade – are doing above an hour of code this week using programs from code.org as part of computer science education week,” Mongelli said last week.

“They’re all doing different age level appropriate activities that teach them the basics of computer programming,” she said.

Tom Defeo, who brought a small robot to help students visualize what coding can do, coordinated the team of 10 Microsoft volunteers, some of them parents of Pleasant Knoll students, who visited the school Dec. 10. In a presentation to fifth graders, Defeo explained the importance of learning the language of computers.

“Code is a set of instructions we send to the device to tell it to do something,” he said.

“If we didn’t write code, my computer wouldn’t turn on. If I didn’t write code, this robot wouldn’t do anything. If I didn’t write code, my phone wouldn’t work. Everything we do, if we turn it on, if we touch it with our hands, if we talk into it, all of that stuff is interacting with code.

“It’s all about programming. Again, it’s a set of instructions that tells the device what to do. You can make whatever you want by learning how to write code,” Defeo said.

Following a presentation to each grade level, students got one-on-one screen time with the Microsoft volunteers while they worked through programming tutorials using Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies on code.org.

Students nationwide visited the site, which features mini-lectures by computer science superstars like Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg. The site’s “Beyond One Hour Of Code” section offers free self-paced tutorials in computer science, programming languages, app and website building, and more for ages 6 and older.

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