116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Learning the code
Free Saturday class will introduce older students to physical computing — with lights, sounds, action
By Rob Merritt, - NewBoCo
Jan. 29, 2023 5:00 am
CEDAR RAPIDS — Computer science is playing a bigger role in Iowa schools every year. So for young students, getting a head start seems like a smart idea.
That’s what NewBoCo is aiming to do with its Code++ program.
Code++, a one-day event for students in eighth to 12th grades will take place Saturday, Feb. 4, at NewBoCo, 415 12th Ave, SE in Cedar Rapids. The event is free, thanks to sponsorship by Collins Aerospace.
The topic for this Saturday’s class is “physical computing.”
Broadly speaking, physical computing refers to programmable devices that use sensors, LED lights and speakers that translate code into actions. Using Circuit Playgrounds, students will teach these devices to complete tasks by using computer programming.
“Physical computing is one of my favorite applications of computer science,” said Samantha Dahlby, NewBoCo’s director of K-12 education. “I love the challenge and creativity of taking input from sensors and the interaction of making things light up, beep, or move in response.”
Students who want to participate in Saturday’s event are encouraged to “show up with your curiosity, a computer if you have it, and a good night’s sleep.”
The event will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. It’s free, though registration is required at https://newbo.co/event/code/
For students who don’t have their own laptops, a limited number of computers are available for use during the class.
The day will start off with block-based programming, followed by lunch. Students also will learn about the C programming language, and professionals in the computer science field will share their experiences.
In 2020, Iowa enacted a law requiring all Iowa high schools to offer computer science instruction by July 2022. It will be a requirement in all Iowa grade schools and middle schools by this July.
In addition to $3.7 million in funding for teacher training that was made available by Microsoft last year, up to $300,000 more will be spent to help districts and non-public schools develop local K-12 computer science plans.
As the designated provider for Code.org curriculum in Iowa schools, NewBoCo’s education team has been heavily involved in those training efforts.
“It’s easy to explain why computer science has become such a priority in our schools,” Dahlby said. “The role of computers continues to grow in the business community each year, meaning that understanding them is vital for our future workforce.
“Yet even if students are not interested in becoming software developers, they still benefit from the problem-solving skills that are practiced in computer science classes. Odds are, those skills can be applied to a number of situations in a student’s life.”
When Dahlby began with NewBoCo, the organization focused mainly on programs for Cedar Rapids students. Since then, she has expanded NewBoCo’s efforts to students and teachers across Iowa.
NewBoCo’s team has worked with more than 950 educators across the state since 2016. Projects have included partnering with Great Prairie AEA to provide three workshops on K-8 computer science; supporting Fort Madison’s computer science program; and working with students in Osage on lessons and projects.
NewBoCo also has trained more than 1,800 teachers for prekindergarten through 12th grade.
Dahlby says that experience helps NewBoCo understand what students experience in their schools.
“Our programs allow us to supplement those foundational experiences with a variety of areas they may not have time to explore in school,” she said. “This starts with our CoderDojo program, which targets elementary age students and is family-friendly, and it extends to middle and high school students in programs like Code++.”
‘So many positives’
Dahlby said the NewBoCo team is excited to give students extra opportunities to go along with what they’re already learning in school.
“We have seen so many positives bloom from this work,” she says. “Working with districts and educators to understand their needs and barriers is how we have been able to grow this program in Iowa.”