9/27/15 Students learn about robotics, coding in introductory computer class

Students learn about robotics, coding in introductory computer class
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 9/27/15  
Reprinted with permission.

 Sophomore Javeyon Vaughn works on a computer Friday during Introduction to Computer Science class at Cummings High School.  
Sam Roberts / Times-News

Sophomore Javeyon Vaughn works on a computer Friday during Introduction to Computer Science class at Cummings High School.
 

   There are 19,341 computing jobs open in North Carolina, according to Code.org, but just 1,098 computer-science graduates to apply for them, leaving lots of good jobs on the table.

   The organization behind the Hour of Code trained some North Carolina high-school teachers, including a local contingent, this past summer for a new class to introduce students to the sometimes-intimidating subject.

   “Nationwide, there are a lot of job opportunities in computer science, and it’s not an area a lot of students select,” said Robin Bowers, director of career and technical education with the Alamance-Burlington School System. “They have all these pre-conceived ideas about what it is.”

   This semester, those teachers are running new Introduction to Computer Science courses in nearly all ABSS high schools. A lot of computer-science courses are already available to ABSS students, many of them offered at the Career and Technical Education Center. Those classes are pretty popular, Bowers said, but they tend to draw students who already know they are interested in computers.

   “If you don’t have a background in that, you might be hesitant to take it,” Bowers said.

   The introductory class gives an overview of different issues with computers. It could get more students interested in taking more advanced classes, and earlier in their high-school careers, Bowers said. Even those who don’t pursue computer science will learn more about something that now touches everyone’s life.

   “It’s not just about students who want to be computer geeks,” said Kathryn Cornett, one of those teachers. “It’s about what everybody is doing.”

   Cornett’s introductory class at Cummings High School covers six broad categories, like how humans interact with computers, problem solving, web design, data analysis and robotics.

   This week, her class learned about artificial intelligence by communicating with “chatbots” — computer programs designed to mimic humans online.

   “You could tell it wasn’t real,” ninth-grader Isaiah Hennix said. “I think they just take key words that you type and give a programmed answer.”

   They started the unit on problem solving with a video and classwork on algorithms, the precise instructions used to program computers. Later, they will learn to program LEGO robots, which Cornett said both introduces important skills and is a lot of fun.

   “You actually kind of learn the process of what happens when you do something simple” with technology, ninth-grader Josue Jimenez said.

   There is a lot of work to do. One of Code.org’s goals is to get more girls and minorities interested in computers, Cornett said. The vast majority of people in the industry are white and male, but she has only one girl in her class.

   “It’s a stubborn issue,” she said.