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The Future is Wide Open

“I just enjoy making stuff and being creative.  I like that I’m able to let my personality show,” said Megan McCloskey, a member of the Lincoln Elementary School Computer Club. 

three girls on laptops

(left to right) Megan McCloskey, Isabella Sarkey, and Layla Nestor enjoy and afternoon in the new Computer Club at Lincoln Elementary School.

The newest extracurricular activity offered at Lincoln is the labor and love of Computer Coordinator, Debra Meekma.  “I knew from the beginning of my position as a Computer Coordinator that I would love to do some kind of coding/programming club, but I wasn’t sure what it would look like.  I knew my students would embrace something new, but I needed to find my footing with classroom teaching before I could introduce a new extracurricular activity,” said Mrs. Meekma.  She is dedicated to project based learning (PBL) and knew the concept would work well for the Club.  “I am a huge proponent of PBL and I think we are giving our kids a major advantage when we let them drive their own learning.  When they decide what direction their learning moves in, they are so much more engaged because they own it,” she explained.

woman and boy on laptop

Computer Club sponsor, Debra Meekma works with Drake Gardner during one of the Computer Club meetings.

The birth of the club came on March 4th and it will continue until April 29th.  Principal Frank Zaremba and Mrs. Meekma discussed the size and logistics of the club and determined that 20 students, meeting once a week, would be optimal for the first year.  The Club debunks many myths about technology learning, beginning with the notion that boys dominate the desire and direction of such offerings.  In reality, an almost equal number of both boys and girls applied to join the club.  “The response to the club was so overwhelming,” said Meekma, “I had to do a blind lottery draw.  It broke my heart to say no to kids I had to turn away this time.  There just wasn’t enough time in the week/month/year to fit them all it.  It nearly killed me to turn kids away.”

boy with passport

Logan Osborn was one of the lucky blind lottery winners and earned a passport into the Computer Science Club.

“This is fun and lots of my friends wanted to do it,” said Club Member Owen Stromquist.  “I love technology and coding different characters to do different stuff,” he added.

boys on laptops

Owen Stromquist and Jake Hoover at Computer Club.  

Mrs. Meekma uses Blockly through Code.org in her classroom.  Colleges use block programming to teach students who have not been exposed to computer programming.  Blockly adapts JavaScript, the most frequently used computer language, into pre-programmed blocks.  Knowing her students will reach for the stars and have an unlimited capacity to adapt and learn multiple computer concepts, Mrs. Meekma chose a different path and program for the club.  “We are using ‘Scratch,’ because the kids already know the basics of block coding from class and Scratch is its own language.  It gives them far more options for creativity.  From backgrounds to costumes, to actions to sound bytes, club members really can create whatever they imagine.”

three boys on laptops

(left to right) Henry Stessl, James Vaulx, and Colin O'Hara enjoy collaborating on their Scratch ideas.

Using a curriculum suggested through Google CS First and introduced at a curriculum meeting with Sherry Gick of 5 Star Technologies, club members are learning to build their own music videos.  They pick the ‘sprites’ or characters they want to program, what they want them to look like, what kind of backdrop they want to create and add/edit their own music.  While this may be their first exposure to Scratch, the Club is certainly not the first exposure to technology for Lincoln students.  From computers, to tablets, to phones, these students have been exposed to technology since birth.  There are times when her students amaze and delight Mrs. Meekma.  “As it always is with kids, they very quickly began doing things I didn’t even know you could do.  It’s insane,” she says with a laugh.

children using laptops

The Computer Club in action.

The future of the Club is healthy and robust.  While she doesn’t know exactly how the Club will grow and evolve, Mrs. Meekma is certain how she will make those decisions.  “I want to collect the data from this years’ experience and then make any decisions from there.  “The sky is the limit and I will happily take these kids wherever they are willing to go.  The future is wide open!”  She is clear that the goal of the Club is not limited to having a good time.  “I want the students to know they have a lot of power at their disposal when it comes to technology.  I want them to go out in the world and create good with that power, not just entertain themselves.  They all have the power to solve problems that get in the way of their goals and I believe participating in this club and completing these projects will only reinforce that power in them and give them confidence as they move forward.” 

Hanover schools are committed to making sure students are 21st century learners.  The overwhelming response of the number of kids who wanted to participate, and the dedication of educators with the passion of Debra Meekma, will most surely help Hanover schools fulfill that commitment.