From coding games to robots to hot chocolate, Oyster River’s first-ever “Coding and Cocoa” event had students across the district exploring the world of computer science.
In conjunction with Hour of Code, a global movement where kids are challenged to spend one hour coding and programming, “Coding and Cocoa” was an event focused on celebrating National Computer Science Education Week and getting kids interested in STEM (science, engineering, technology, mathematics). The event took place on the morning of Wednesday, December 8th, where students across the district worked together in online coding activities or in-person computer science activities. Those who completed them were awarded with hot chocolate and a candy cane for their efforts.
Students had a variety of ways to participate in the event and learn about computer science, and one way was by trying the online activities on the Hour of Code website. The website has multiple coding challenges, from building your own Star Wars galaxy, to creating your own Google logo. Science teacher Celeste Best, who coordinated the event at the high school, explained that in reality, these activities are pretty much games, and students can have fun playing with them while still getting to learn the basics of coding.
At Mohariment and Mast Way, all students were participating in these online activities with the help of high school students. The cafeteria acted as a call center, and each high schooler was assigned a classroom to provide technical support for specific coding activities through Microsoft Teams.
Elise Wolheim (‘22) was one student who volunteered to help elementary students with their coding. Although it was slightly difficult to communicate with kids through the computer, she said she still had a good experience. “I worked with a few kids, but this one kid kept coming back and it was kind of fun, helping him work through it.”
Annika Baumgardt (‘23), another volunteer, also noted how she liked that the event allowed for younger students and older students to interact with each other. “I think it’s really good to kind of have these bonding moments because, when I was younger, I would always look up to like the high school kids. I think it was probably a really cool experience for them to be able to talk to someone in high school and get some help from them.”
At the high school, there were several other computer science activities that kids could participate in. In the library, students got the chance to play around with snap circuits or the Ozobot and MiP robots, while in the senior core was the school’s Vex Robotics Team, where members were displaying the team’s robot from last season’s competition.
Will Blandini (‘24), a member of the team, said he was excited that the event provided an opportunity to showcase what the team is working on and potentially get more people to join. “We are continuing to look for better people to make this experience better, more fun, more engaging,” says Blandini. “The more people we have on the team, the even more we can benefit from having good, high-quality robots.”
Overall, students had fun with the various coding activities throughout the event. However, Best explained that there was more to the event than just getting the chance to drink some hot cocoa, and it’s main purpose was to get kids talking about computer science. “The goal is to have everybody kind of exploring and not being scared by the words ‘computer programming or coding,’” she said. “I think a lot of people are just really intimidated by it. Students I’ve talked to immediately say ‘I can’t do that’ but it’s really not that hard.”
Getting kids interested also means making them aware of future STEM careers. Best explained that there are many professions that some students don’t realize involve computer science skills. “One of the top jobs that requires some of these programming skills is actually fixing the MRI, CT scanning and X-ray machines. I had never even thought of that, but it’s cool to think about how you could go to all these places and hospitals and you’d be the one fixing it,” she said.
As Best had hoped, Wolheim thought the event was a great way to get students interested in STEM, especially younger girls. “I think it helps that there were a lot of high schoolers that were here that were girls. Although we all aren’t necessarily interested in STEM, it’s nice for younger girls to see that we were engaged so that they can look up to us. I hope it inspires them, because I think we need more women in the field.”
Other students however, thought the event was simply a good way to bring together the entire district. Samantha Ble (‘22), who was working with the MiP robot in the library, said, “It’s a good community organizer. It gets people to work together, and I think that’s the most important thing, even if people don’t want to go into a STEM career.”
In the future, Best hopes to continue having district-wide events such as this one. “It’s hard at the high school level, because you have so much going on and classes are so busy, but I think if we can do it through something simple like this, and we get that opportunity to all be doing the same thing at once, I think that is pretty cool.”