At John D. Sutter and Montague Elementary Schools in Santa Clara, all K – 5 students take part in “Code to the Future,” the nation’s leading computer science immersion program for schools.
The Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) has provided each child at these schools with a simplified laptop called a Chromebook. Their teachers have received special training to guide the students in learning the fundamentals of computer coding as part of their daily curriculum.
“The teachers are the real champions on this journey,” said Montague Principal Ramis Ahrary. “Our teachers receive ongoing training and coaching to teach the curriculum. They work diligently to deliver high leverage activities to our students to prepare them for college and career readiness.”
The students move through three Code to the Future training cycles, each taking seven or eight weeks. In Cycle I, students learn block coding using a free program called Scratch. They program interactive stories, video games and animations.
In Cycle II, students build robots out of Lego Mindstorm sets and program them to do simple tasks. The 2018 – 2019 academic year is the first time that students will progress to Cycle III, Minecraft, creating more complicated projects.
Sutter Epic Showcase
Feb. 13 was Sutter Elementary’s Code to the Future Epic Showcase day. Parents, SCUSD personnel and the community visited classrooms to view the students’ Cycle II robotics projects.
In one fourth- and fifth-grade classroom, teammates Micael, Mikaela and Chidalu crowded around their Chromebooks with Tinker Bell, their Lego robot. They had programmed it to stop advancing when it senses the color red.
“Once it sees red, it stops moving — like a car at a traffic light,” explained one of the children.
“But it’s stressful trying to figure out what happened when it stops before it sees red,” said another.
“It’s fun and challenging,” said the third teammate.
“We’re excited and proud of our code,” all agreed.
“I’m amazed by the creativity and engagement I’m seeing at such a young age,” said SCUSD Board Member Vickie Fairchild. “Obviously, the staff and community have committed to this program. I’m thrilled to see students being challenged with such enriching curriculum.”
Out of 18 SCUSD elementary schools, Sutter (3200 Forbes Ave.) and Montague (750 Laurie Ave.) are the only two computer science immersion schools. Code to the Future was introduced at these schools in the 2017 – 2018 academic year.
“Our schools jumped on the opportunity,” said Sutter Principal Michael Fong. “It took the buy-in of the entire school community. Teachers need to integrate coding into the curriculum. We learned that students do pick up quickly on understanding programming.”
“We are observing a high level of engagement with all students, and I am particularly pleased to see our girls just as engaged and interested as our boys with coding and robotics,” said Ahrary. “I hope that we can inspire our girls at this age to pursue science and engineering as options in their future career endeavors.”
The goal of the SCUSD is to outfit all students with electronic devices by 2020, which would make it possible for other elementary schools to adopt the Code to the Future program. Funds to purchase electronic devices were allocated from state Redevelopment Agency one-time funds. General funds cover technology support programs.
“We’re equipping our students with the 21st century skills to thrive in jobs of the future, most of which have yet to be created,” said SCUSD Educational Technology Coordinator Shann Chu.
Chu credits Assistant Superintendent Kathie Kanavel for her vision and leadership in introducing Code to the Future to the schools.
“I’m excited, giving equity and access to technology to all our kids,” said Chu.
“This is a phenomenal learning opportunity for our students,” said SCUSD Director of Elementary Education Tricia Ringel, looking around a Sutter classroom. “You can see the excitement on faces.”