TRIMONT– An after school coding club is currently taking place at Martin County West Trimont Elementary School. It’s led by Celia Simpson, a Lead for Minnesota Fellow hosted by Project 1590.
Simpson’s fellowship is American Connection Project and is focused on digital equity. Part of her focus is on making sure people of all ages in the community have the skills and knowledge to use different devices and software.
When she started her service term in August, she did a listening tour throughout the county and met with the school’s superintendent, Cori Reynolds.
“I mentioned that I wanted to work on STEM activities for girls and that I wanted to start a Girls Who Code program… and she said she would be excited to get it started here,” Simpson said.
Girls Who Code is a free, national after school program. It funds everything including T-shirts and notebooks. The mission of the organization is to close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.
Girls Who Code has over 8,500 programs worldwide but this is the first time the program has been offered in Martin County.
“Anyone who is interested in hosting it can host it. You just need a volunteer to run it,” Simpson said.
The program is run through Martin County West Community Education and Recreation.
The first meeting at MCW was on Nov. 1 and since then students have been meeting twice a week. The program goes through the end of the month.
Right now it’s open to 3rd and 4th graders but Simpson said next semester she’ll be offering one for 5th and 6th graders.
Though just three students are in the program right now, Simpson is hopeful more will be in it the next time around. While it’s called Girls Who Code, it’s actually open to all students but aims to get more girls interested in coding. Simpson said they could have made the fact that it’s open to everyone more clear when advertising for it.
When they meet, students do short readings that talk about different coding concepts. They also use Scratch, a free online program that allows the user to create their own interactive stories, games and animations.
“It teaches block coding. You put something on a screen and it does a thing… they’ve been making little objects fly off the screen when you press a button,” Simpson explained.
The students are currently working on designing their own video games.
Kenzie Schmidtke, a student in the class, said her favorite part of the club is making her own game. In her game, the user has to try and run away from a fox.
As for why Schmidtke wanted to be in the club, she said, “I wanted to try something new and it sounded fun.”
“This is teaching them that the things they know and love and enjoy are something they can work on and do themselves,” Simpson said of the program.
She said said the intention of the program is to ignite a spark in the students and encourage them to continue on with coding as they get older.
While what the young students are learning now is the basics of coding, Simpson said if they were to go into First Robotics, the skills would be transferrable.
Simpson herself was in robotics when she was a student at Fairmont High School. For that she worked on the build team and enjoyed the coding side of it.