Brockport Coding Academy Teaches High School Students Basic Coding Skills
Faculty members are teaching local teachers and students how basic coding and programming languages can create games and mobile apps.
Armed with a $1.2 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant administered by the SUNY Research Foundation, SUNY Brockport has worked in partnership with local school districts to help strengthen high school students’ engagement and interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.
Its latest effort is the Brockport Coding Academy, an interactive, hands-on workshop tailored to high school students with the goal of providing them early exposure to coding and programming.
A joint effort across multiple disciplines at the College, the academy is directed by Professor of Computational Science Osman Yasar with support from professors Peter Veronesi and Leigh Little in the fields of science education and earth science, respectively, and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Jose Maliekal.
“Our hope is that if we give students early exposure to coding, they will be interested in the field when choosing a career,” Veronesi said. “Often, a lot of college students who choose to major in computer science do so because they know there are jobs in coding, but many can become overwhelmed by the curriculum because they haven’t had any prior experiences.”
In an initial step toward combatting this problem, the College held a weeklong training for teachers from area school districts over the summer, where they learned how to use and teach basic coding programs. Jonathan Heyd of Iroquois Central School District has taken the knowledge he developed in the training back to his classroom, where he is now teaching an AP coding course to his high school students.
“Programming and coding are really in their infancy when you compare them to other core subjects like mathematics and history,” said Heyd. “With the field continuing to grow, our hope is that one day we can make a course like this part of the core curriculum.”
Heyd, along with four other teachers and 35 students from Iroquois Central School District, visited campus again on November 1 for the second installment of the Brockport Coding Academy. The students learned how to operate Agent Sheets, a drag and drop program that uses if-then statements to run basic simulations and games. This program is a core element of instruction for Sounthone Vattana, a lecturer in the Department of Computing Sciences who taught the students in this installment.
“An experience like this can be life changing for a student,” said Veronesi. “They are not only learning skills that are taught in a college course, but they are learning it on a college campus.”
According to Heyd, the students arrived to campus with varying degrees of coding experience, but they all seemed to react with excitement when they finished their simulations. After their initial excitement subsided, they came to the aid of their peers who were struggling to finish, helping them troubleshoot their code.
“It was nice to see the kids that had no experience with coding gaining interest and understanding the topic,” Heyd said. “While the kids from our computer science course were jumping ahead and testing their capabilities, they were also helping others who were behind.”
One of those students was 11th grader Ryan Current, who eventually hopes to start a career in computer science or engineering.
“Over the summer, I took an online course on Java that was difficult to understand since I didn’t know a lot going in,” said Current. “But this course helped me understand the basic concepts of coding and it started to make some sense out of what I learned over summer.”
Veronesi plans to expand the Brockport Coding Academy beyond the college campus this summer through a partnership with the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC). The RMSC has agreed to bring an instructor from the College and use the academy’s curriculum for a Summer Curiosity Camp on coding in 2020.
While the partnership was quickly growing into an ideal match, one last issue needed to be addressed — a lack of computers at the RMSC. That problem was quickly solved by a Brockport-based business.
“SunnKing currently works with the College on its sustainability efforts, recycling the College’s electronics in an environmentally friendly manner,” Veronesi said. “SunnKing was generous enough to donate 25 computers to us. Without them this could never have happened.”
With computers, an instructor, a reliable facility, and an engaging curriculum, the curiosity camp will launch July 6 – 10, 2020.