RACINE — After doing its first Hour of Code last year, Racine Unified expanded the event to four more elementary schools this year.

The Hour of Code takes place annually during Computer Science Education Week, which was Dec. 9-15 this year.

Steven Branson, assistant principal in charge of the elementary portion of Mitchell School, said he wanted to bring the Hour of Code to his school this year to help banish the perception that coding is too difficult for younger students to learn.

“I want the kids to understand that this is accessible to them,” he said.

The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, but has since turned into a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with one-hour coding activities.

Last year, Higher Expectations for Racine County and the Chicago non-profit Dream Hustle Code worked with Racine Unified to bring Hour of Code to students at Red Apple, Julian Thomas and Dr. Jones elementary schools.

This year, Racine Unified took more of a lead role in the effort, while still receiving some help from Higher Expectations. The district continued hosting Hour of Code at the original three schools this year but also expanded to Olympia Brown, Fratt, Janes and Mitchell elementary schools.

The district doesn’t yet have the capacity to host Hour of Code at every school, but plans to continue adding more elementary schools each year until the event is offered at all of them.

Learning the language

During Unified’s Hour of Code, kindergarten through fifth-grade students broke into teams of two and worked together on laptops, playing the free coding games available at hourofcode.com. They received help from their teachers, along with community volunteers.

Last year, all K-5 students played the game Lightbot, but this year the district diversified its games to ensure older students were engaged.

“We wanted to make sure it was interesting for the kids,” Branson said.

This year, the upper grades coded with Disney Infinity, the middle elementary grades used Angry Birds and the youngest students used Lightbot.

Branson, who was assistant principal at Julian Thomas last year, knew he wanted to bring Hour of Code to Mitchell this year.

“Last year, one of the biggest things was just the initial exposure for my kids to understand the basics of computer coding and how it wasn’t as complicated as they thought it was,” he said.

Some students came to school the next day and told him they downloaded the app and played coding games all night.

Student perspective

For some Mitchell students, the Hour of Code was not an introduction to coding, but a continuation of learning the skill.

Fifth-grade dual language students Samaya Rangel and Jisela Vela began to learn coding in third grade and now help introduce students in the lower grades to it.

“We’ve learned that you can do many things with coding,” Rangel said.

Rangel and Vela agreed that coding was challenging in the beginning, but they had an easy time during the Hour of Code event, since they’ve had some experience with it.

One of Rangel’s favorite games from Hour of Code is called Dance Party.

“You can code the characters to do dances,” Rangel said. “It comes with music and it does, like, the floss or something.”

Both said they would like to continue working on coding in the future.

The fifth-grade students at Mitchell used code to move Disney characters and to level-up to new characters.

“Then at the very end you make your own code,” Rangel said.

The students used their own code to make the characters perform three actions.

“It’s very fun,” Vela said.

According to Emily Neubauer, Unified’s communications manager, the district has a goal to incorporate STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, curriculum in all its elementary schools, but there is no timeline for the roll out, as it is a work in progress.

“Last year, one of the biggest things was just the initial exposure for my kids to understand the basics of computer coding and how it wasn’t as complicated as they thought it was.” Steven Branson, assistant principal at Mitchell Elementary


Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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