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TMCNet:  Computer programming classes scarce in Lodi Unified School District

[February 27, 2013]

Computer programming classes scarce in Lodi Unified School District

Feb 27, 2013 (Lodi News-Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Do students in Lodi have enough opportunities to learn coding or computer programming District officials say not quite, but the door to more coding classes is open.

Lodi Unified School District Board President Ralph Womack said he wasn't familiar with any classes that specifically teach coding, though several broader courses are open.

"We're always looking for ways to offer more enriched career opportunities for students. Any computer-related programming or video work are all viable careers," he said.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter creator Jack Dorsey are among the tech luminaries appearing in a new video promoting the teaching and learning of computer coding in schools.

Titled "What most schools don't teach," the video released online Tuesday begins with Zuckerberg, Gates and other tech icons recalling the time they got their start in coding. For some, that was in sixth grade. For others, such as Ruchi Sanghvi, Facebook's first female engineer, that happened in college.

Students can pick up some programming skills through several regional occupation programs that are offered through Lincoln Technical Academy on Pine Street. Courses include basic and advanced computer networking, and lessons in designing graphics, websites, games and multimedia projects. In one class, students learn how to build an app for a smartphone.

Two small learning communities exist within the district to give students a taste of what it might be like to work in a technology or engineering-related field. At Bear Creek High School, students can join the Engineering and Technology Academy to take pre-engineering classes.

At Lodi High School, students join the SUN Institute focused on a career experience pathway that could lead to future work in the computer field, but does not specifically outline programming or coding lessons.

"The more options you have, the more you can keep in school that kid who is not interested in college but has a great interest in the subject matter. It could be a good career for them," said Womack.

To take full advantage of what coding or technology courses the schools do offer, Lincoln Tech principal Bill Atterberry recommends taking a step back from the Advanced Placement track.

"There is such a focus on getting into college. Many people will have that degree, but how will you distinguish yourself from the competition when you get to the job market " he said.

Those coding skills or other hands-on experience can be what sets an applicant apart.

Successful coding courses rely on lessons that show students how the programs they write can affect the way they live.

"Not focusing on the theory, but the application in hands-on environments. You have to inspire students to want to take it," Atterberry said.

Students at Jim Elliot Christian High School in Lodi are certainly inspired. They have been using programming skills to build robots since 2005. They run a club called Raptor Force Engineering Tea, 1662, and submit an entry for the annual FIRST Robotics Competition. In 2012, their club won first place at a regional competition in Tel Aviv, Israel. They have advanced to the world championships several times.

Lodi teachers are noticing the benefit of learning to navigate digital waters.

George Neely, a member of the board of trustees, teaches at an all-digital charter school in Stockton called the Able Academy of Business, Law and Education. One of his classes teaches basic HTML coding for Web design to get kids into the digital creation mindset.

"The all-digital concept gets kids accustomed to that mode of thinking. I'm always shocked at how far they come with their ability to use technology," Neely said. "To see them untethered from textbooks is a huge advantage." For kids, learning coding doesn't have to be intimidating, said Neely. Lessons have to start basic, to teach students that the computer can only act based on the instructions the user issues. Even spreadsheet programs have opportunities to teach simple coding.

"We could be doing more of that in the schools now, but we just aren't set up that way," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

___ (c)2013 Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.) Visit the Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.) at www.lodinews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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