MICHIGAN CITY — Journee Shannon and Hope Davis-Bey, two sixth graders at Lake Hills STEM Magnet Elementary School and best friends, combined two of their loves, robots and horses, which they put on display Friday afternoon as the culmination of the citywide Week Of Code.
Using Lego Robotics, they programmed a robot to move using code they learned during the activity, while other Lego blocks, in the shape of horses, incorporated other curriculum they learned in other classes.
“We wanted to show how humans and animals work together and how to keep them healthy,” said Davis-Bey, citing a number of different equine diseases, to which Shannon added, “and that horses can be service animals.”
Week of Code is a collaboration between a number of community partners including Michigan City Area Schools, the Unity Foundation of LaPorte County, and the Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City.
Integrating curriculum is one objective of the Week of Code, says STEM Coordinator Shelley Deutscher.
“We’ve been coding all-year long. We have a LEGO Robotics team, they use technology like Raspberry Pi and Ozobots, and we have a 3-D printer. Our students do service projects utilizing coding and they meet on Saturdays and after school so there is a real commitment,” Deutscher said.
For younger students who may begin with programming a toy mouse to follow a sequence of commands using directional buttons, it is the first step in making a life-long connection.
“It’s fun and it’s engaging for them,” said Deutscher, “but they take it seriously too so they can tell you the science behind it.”
Fifth grader Kalila Davis-Bey said that she likes coding because she thinks it’s fun.
“I like coding because you can make video games and animate stories. I made an animation using Scratch on Chromebooks. It’s a race and two people can play,” she said.
When asked if it was hard to code she responded, “Nah, not really,” and said she would like to pursue a career in animation because “today’s animation seems so realistic.”
Sixth graders Victor Contreras and Nikolai Razo also made animations using Scratch on Chromebook, a program that helps to teach coding.
“Some things are simple, but they always have a script,” Contreras said, demonstrating his dancing robot animation that he even set to music.
Razo said there were “glitches” with his animation, but he was working through them.
“Godzilla is upside down sometimes,” Razo said.
Problem solving and discovering ways to work around obstacles is part of the learning process that will prepare students for the future, said Kevin McGuire, technology director for the Michigan City Area Schools.
“Why do we do this? We know the demand for coders is growing every day and we wanted to have that awareness in Michigan City schools, to show kids what coding is. This is part of our push to introduce the K through eight computer science standards set by the Indiana Department of Education,” McGuire said.
Rishi Verma, a senior at Michigan City High School, said that he plans to pursue coding in college and beyond as he heads to Purdue University this fall to study engineering.
“I know coding will help me in my college and professional career and I’ve learned a lot,” Verma said of his membership on the school’s robotics team.
Superintendent Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins thanked students and teachers for their hard work during the Week of Code and she encouraged them all to continue their efforts.
“I was so proud when I visited our schools and saw our young people so excited about coding and it wouldn’t happen without the teachers who work so hard as well as our partners,” Eason-Watkins said.
McGuire said that efforts will continue through a program called Michigan City Coder Dojo which will feature after-school programs at community partner locations, and technology tool kits for teachers.