University of Central Florida students and the community experienced a galaxy far, far away during Hour of Code in the Education Complex gymnasium Tuesday.
Hour of Code is a national campaign that promotes computer coding. Last year’s event featured President Obama writing his first line of code and made history by having more than 100 million participants.
This year’s Hour of Code, which coincided with Computer Science Education Week, attracted more than 100 attendees for its inaugural event at UCF.
The space-themed adventure included “Star Wars” games designed with a coding module on a smart phone, tablet or laptop instructed by BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation 10-year-old twins Avery and Grayson Zrelak, interactive challenges like Storm Trooper bowling with Wonder Workshop’s Dash robots and recorded messages from President Obama and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” engineers, discussing the coding process and how to create a game with computer code.
UCF College of Education and Human Performance’s mathematics education assistant professor Megan Nickels organized this year’s Hour of Code festivities with her CEDHP Pediatric Interest Group-Education (pig-e) student organization. The group features 21 elementary education undergraduate students from Nickels’ math content course.
“Pig-e is helping me with robotics, but I’m also preparing the students to be educators,” says Nickels. “I feel future educators should get exposure and seek out as many different educational settings as possible, some of which may make them feel uncomfortable, so they can see enough and know to find their passion within our profession.”
Nickels has been teaching critically ill children mathematics with LEGO and Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot robots ever since she volunteered at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, Ill., a St. Jude’s Hospital affiliate clinic where she provided educational services while she was pursuing her doctoral degree in mathematics education from Illinois State University.
She uses the Dash and Dot robots to teach the children math. The building process uses algebraic, geometric and other mathematic concepts for developing the robot’s think tank. The children became attached to the robots and had an opportunity to program the mathematical learning tools to be a shark, play rock paper scissors or whatever their heart desires.
“It became really clear that there was a big need to have an exposure to meaningful mathematics,” explains Nickels. “I’m researching how children with cancer and other chronic illnesses learn mathematics through robotics and how that affects their conceptual understanding of mathematics and physiological and socio-emotional well-being.”
In Orlando, Nickels is continuing her mission by teaching children mathematics with robotics at area hospitals through BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation.
During Hour of Code, attendees had an opportunity to program their own robots and play games.
“I enjoyed looking at the crowd and seeing them engrossed with the ‘Star Wars’ coding module,” said Nickels. “They learned coding skills and put them into practice with the Wonder Workshop’s Dash robots. Computer science is now, and the rock stars of tomorrow are coders.”
Web engineer Amado Gonzalez was amazed with how quickly the area school children learned the computer coding when they programmed their Dash robots with tablets and smart phones. He also felt this year’s theme was engaging and fun.
“Tying Hour of Code with ‘Star Wars,’ which is a global phenomenon, is great because the kids can see real-world applications of what coding does and how it’s programmed.”
Elementary education student Karly Nelson loved the “Star Wars” theme and was fascinated with her Dash robot. She played Storm Trooper bowling and was able to knock some of the cups down with her robot, which was programmed by her smart phone. Nelson was impressed with Dash and its capabilities and feels computer coding is the wave of the future.
“Everything is tech-based now. Daily lives also revolve around their cell phone. Your computer is in your hand constantly. Understanding how that computer works and building a phone with computer code will be common place.”