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Local school teaches computer programming using EToys and help from UI Special Education and Computer Science

by Meg Dickinson / Dec 26, 2013

When you think of elementary school, you think of reading, writing and arithmetic — but probably not computer programming.

That's changing.

Computer science in elementary and secondary schools got a lot of press earlier this month, as schools all over the country participated in a program called Hour of Code for Computer Science Education Week. It encourages students to try coding for one hour.

But at Champaign's Kenwood Elementary, it should be called hours of code, said Principal Lisa Geren, given that students there have been focusing on computer programming since the first day of school in July.

The new focus came about when staff members decided to rewrite the school's mission to emphasize technology, literacy and their community. Much of the staff trained last summer with partners at the University of Illinois.

"From there, it just caught fire," Geren said.

Now, all of Kenwood's students participate in programming on a daily basis. Same goes for the teachers.

"We've found that the smaller they are," Geren said, "the quicker they learn."

The school teaches students computer programming while incorporating it with other subjects, including art or at the school library. They use software called EToys, which has also been introduced at other schools around Champaign.

Because of new, more rigorous state standards, there's just no time to focus on computer science on its own, said Maya Israel, an assistant professor of special education at the UI's College of Education.

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