Portland middle school invites students, families to code

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PORTLAND — Lyman Moore Middle School teacher Sean Wasson is hoping to demonstrate that computer science is about collaboration, problem-solving and creativity.

Not to mention a whole lot of fun, he said.

Wasson and fellow computer science teacher Aaron Rog will celebrate National Computer Science Education Week with the second annual Family Code Night event, scheduled for 5:30-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Lyman Moore.

“We don’t expect people to become coding experts in an hour,” Wasson said. But the hope is that students and their families will get a positive initial introduction to coding and computer science.

The event “requires no coding experience and no special facilities. We (just) want the community to know what computer science is and that it’s a lot of fun,” Wasson said this week.

He and Rog held the first Family Code Night last year after bringing “an entirely brand-new curriculum” to Lyman Moore, which they wanted to introduce to the families of their students.

“We wanted to do something fun for the community. I did some research and found out that communities around the U.S. were having this event called Family Code Night,” Wasson said. “We were hoping for 20 to 30 people to show up. We had over 150.”

While Wasson and Rog teach at Lyman Moore, Family Code Night is available to any student in the district.

“This event is open to all students and their families from all over the Portland school district,” Wasson said. “It’s mostly geared towards K-8 students, (but) we would love to see the high school students too.”

He said for the students, code night is “an introduction to a vital set of skills needed in the 21st century. For parents and guardians, it showcases what computer science is and creates a fun atmosphere for them and their children.”

“Family Code Night is designed to show students that they can code, collaborate and problem-solve,” Wasson said. “We want to take away the mystery of computer science. For parents, it’s (about) getting them involved with their kids’ education and to support that learning.”

What makes the night even more special is that students will be running the event.

Wasson said about a dozen students in seventh and eighth grade at Lyman Moore are involved in planning Family Code Night, and they’ll also be working with kids and their families hands on throughout the evening.

Wasson said the students have chosen three or four Hour of Code activities to use and they’re now practicing to become experts. “Aaron will make the introductions at the beginning and I close out the event. That’s all we do. Otherwise, the Lyman Moore students run the whole event.”

He said along with coding activities, there would be a raffle and “wonderful prizes to hand out” that were all donated by local sponsors. “We try to make sure every child receives something during the night (and) we welcome any additional sponsors that would like to donate.”

Wasson has been a teacher for the past 20 years, but only switched to computer science within the past four.

What he most enjoys is the “opportunity and challenge of teaching an incredibly important set of skills that is so relevant in today’s economy. Every day I get to see my students work together to solve problems in a creative and fun way. They are learning so much and my classes are incredibly satisfying for me because of it.”

Part of the challenge of teaching computer science lies in the fact that Maine doesn’t have any statewide curriculum standards for the discipline, Wasson said.

“We need to change this and catch up with the rest of the nation. There are great computer science teachers in Maine doing amazing things, but we need support and many students in Maine (still) don’t have access to computer science.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Last year 150 people showed up for Lyman Moore Middle School’s first Family Code Night. This year organizers are hoping for even more. The event is scheduled for 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at the school, 171 Auburn St. in Portland.

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