University partners with local agencies to teach kids to code

Computer science and engineering students and faculty offer coding lessons at Discovery Museum

4/8/2014 | By: Kirstin Swagman  |

Students from the University of Nevada, Reno's Association for Computing Machinery club, or ACM, volunteered their time on March 29th to help about 70 K-12 students learn how to code.

Ten ACM volunteers, as well as faculty members David Feil-Seifer and Richard Kelley, were on hand for a four-hour coding open house co-sponsored by the Discovery Museum and

"We taught the kids the fundamental principles of programming, which are actually very simple," said Jessie Smith, computer science and engineering student and ACM member. "They learn building blocks that are used every day by programmers, but through a fun and colorful interface. It is always fun for me to see the moment when kids go from having no idea what is going on to suddenly understanding. There are always really great moments when the kids say ‘Oh I get it' and they can zoom through the rest of the hour without any problems."

The event, which the groups hope to hold on an annual basis, featured an introduction to Scratch, a free programming tool designed for K-12 students by the MIT Media Lab.

"Teaching Scratch allowed kids to develop reasoning and programming skills in a fun way that doesn't feel like work," said volunteer Bandith Phommounivong. "I volunteered to show both kids and adults that computer programming is not some weird mysterious thing that only math people can do."

In addition to providing a chance for students to learn the basics of Scratch, as well as to share and compare their creations, the open house kicked off a coding contest. Younger students can submit any kind of Scratch projects, while high school students must submit a project that simulates a phenomenon from the natural world, such as gravity or an earthquake.

Entries are due April 18th and will be judged by faculty and students from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The winning entry will receive $1,000. Several other cash prizes will also be awarded.
Winners will be announced on April 26th at the Discovery Museum. The event, which is free and open to the public, will also give attendees a chance to talk to finalists and try out their code projects.

The event is part of an on-going partnership between the University of Nevada, Reno chapter of ACM, and Marketing Evolution that aims to get kids across Northern Nevada excited about coding. The University's Raggio Research Center for STEM Education also collaborated in developing the event.

"Coding open-houses and similar events are an effort by the students of the Computer Science and Engineering Department chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery to show children in the Reno area the joy of coding," said Feil-Seifer, faculty advisor to the ACM chapter. "It is our sincere belief that computer skills and programming ability are some keys to future success. Every child should be given the opportunity to code."

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