TWIN FALLS | Jobs involving computers make up two-thirds of all new jobs in science and math fields and computer science is one of the most in-demand college degrees, yet 75 percent of schools nationwide don't offer computer science classes.
That's why the nonprofit group Code.org is working to expose more kids, especially girls and minority students, to computer science and improve access to computer classes. This week, local schools joined the mission.
Coding sparked O'Leary Middle School student Parker Smith's interest and Monday he helped his classmates get hands-on practice. He’s among about 10 members of Vera C. O’Leary Middle School’s new coding club. They created tutorials and helped out in classes during the schoolwide “Hour of Code.”
“I thought it was really fun,” the 12-year-old said.
About 190,000 schools worldwide are participating in conjunction with Computer Science Education Week.
O’Leary students spent an hour Monday in their social studies class practicing coding — a skill needed for creating websites and phone applications.
“I get a little excited about this,” teacher Annette McFarlin told hundreds of eighth-graders during a kick-off assembly. Computers are everywhere, she said, and students need to be prepared.
There’s an urgent message to deliver, McFarlin told students: Once you graduate from college, you’ll be expected to know coding. Plus, there are many computer science jobs, she said, but not enough people to fill them.
At the assembly, guests included several representatives from the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and Twin Falls School District; Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls; Debbie Critchfield, a member of the Idaho Board of Education; Twin Falls Mayor Don Hall; and Twin Falls city spokesman Joshua Palmer.
Plus, other Idaho officials — including public schools chief Sherri Ybarra and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter — have pledged to try their hand at coding this week.
Blake Archibald, 13, is interested in a computer science career. And he decided to join coding club because he says it’s cool. “I’ve always been interested in technology.”
It’s the first time O’Leary has done a schoolwide Hour of Code. In past years, only a few teachers did activities with their classes.
This year, McFarlane pushed for a larger initiative. And the school received a $10,000 grant from Code.org — the only middle school in Idaho to be selected.
Grant money will be used to buy computer hardware. “We have a desperate need for the technology to be replaced,” she said.
McFarlane told students she recently used a computer in the library and had to stop herself from throwing it in the dumpster. “It was so slow.”
At Summit Elementary School in Jerome, students will work on lessons on Code.org this week. Each class will visit the computer lab twice, for a total of two hours.
Coding teaches students to solve problems using logic and to work independently, said Summit Elementary music teacher Penni Aufderheide. "You have to use your mind to figure it out.”
Aufderheide is among a group of employees putting on coding lessons, including computer lab workers Shaylee Strikwerda and Stacie Rambo, and physical education teacher Connie McDonald.
Summit Elementary fifth-grader Ashton Silvers, 10, is already interested in coding, and has been working on it before and after school.
Ashton – who wants to be a video game designer – said he enjoys solving problems. He has written 1,665 lines of code and he's not planning to stop anytime soon.