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Jun 16, 2017 11:38 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Quogue Third-Graders Take Crash Course On Computer Coding

Julia Sobhani, 9, learns how to do computer coding during a club after school at East Quogue Elementary. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Jun 20, 2017 6:01 PM

Julia Sobhani has been hard at work over the past several weeks creating two episodes for her new animated series called “The Heart Of Gold.”The show is based on a mother cat that runs away from her owner, while carrying her kitten. Mama cat is afraid that their owner is going to separate her family by putting her newborn up for adoption. The series follows the adventures of the mother cat and her kitten—both of whom end up joining a clowder of kittens in the wild.

Not only did Julia come up with the show’s script herself, but she also drew all of the animations by hand, selected the music, voiced the characters, and created the computer coding that makes the characters move.

Julia is 9 and a third-grader at the East Quogue Elementary School.

She explained in a recent interview that creating an animated series is a lot of work, especially when she has to balance her hobby with her academics.

“I really did everything myself,” she said, a grin spreading across her face on a recent Wednesday afternoon as she worked on the second episode of her series in the Central Avenue school’s computer lab.

The outgoing filmmaker—one of 17 third-graders now enrolled in the school’s new Coding Club, which meets for one hour every Wednesday—loves talking about her ideas and coding projects for “The Heart Of Gold.”

The club was created by parent Irene Patar Wasser, who worked in the computer coding field in New York City before moving to East Quogue in 2006 when her twin daughters, Evangeline and Annabelle, were born. They are now fifth-graders at the school. Ms. Wasser worked in development and troubleshooting for 12 years at GlobalSource Partners Inc., which was called Financial Technology at the time.

Even though she no longer works in the field, Ms. Wasser said it is vital to expose children to technology and computer programming as early as possible, noting that even if students are not interested, the subjects still offer important lessons and teaches them critical problem-solving skills.

“As a mom, and seeing where the future is going, technology is taking over,” said Ms. Wasser, who pitched her idea for a Coding Club earlier this year to East Quogue School Superintendent Robert Long. “People are losing their jobs to technology.”

Ms. Wasser, a volunteer who is in charge of the club, teaches basic computer coding skills through a free program called Scratch, which was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She noted that the directions are so simple that children as young as 5 can grasp it.

With the program, students can create an assortment of different projects, including animated greeting cards, videos and games.

Before starting the club at the elementary school, Ms. Wasser encouraged her daughters to use the program at home. “Instead of playing games, they can make the games,” she said.

Though her girls enjoy coding at home, even Ms. Wasser was a little surprised by the number of students who showed up at the club’s inaugural meeting in March. At the time, Ms. Wasser and Jen Luckingham, a teacher’s assistant who assists with the club, invited the school’s first and second grade students to join, thinking that only a few students would be interested.

They were very wrong.

More than 40 kids signed up—roughly twice the number of computers available in the school lab. The club advisers had to double up the students on the computers, making it slightly more challenging for them to pick up the new skills.

Still, the students met for four consecutive Wednesdays before the advisors decided to offer the club to the school’s third-graders, and 17 more students signed up.

Ms. Wasser said she was happy to see how quickly the students picked up on coding. “They’re like sponges,” she said.

“The club has exceeded my expectations,” added Mr. Long. “I was very excited about the interest from the students and from the families. We worked hard to accommodate as many kids as possible. We think it’s important that what we’re teaching reflects the 21st century skills the children will need.”

He noted that he was both pleased and proud to see many young girls sign up for the free lessons. The superintendent added that the club will be offered again next school year and opened up to additional grade levels.

Some members, like Julia, started learning how to code on their own before joining the club. She explained that she discovered the program Scratch online before it was offered at her school while surfing the web at home. She recalled watching videos and games featuring the Scratch log, and decided then that she wanted to learn how to make them herself. “It just seemed really fun,” Julia said.

Julie explained that she was inspired to create “The Heart Of Gold” after reading one of the books in her favorite series, called “Warriors” and written by Erin Hunter. Similar to Julia’s animation, the series follows a group of feral cats that have settled in a forest and claimed it as their own. The cats are split into four different clans and the books are based on the conflicts that arise between the groups.

Julia, who plans to make “lots and lots” of more episodes for “The Heart Of Gold” this summer, explained that she had an easy time learning coding—though she did face some challenges. In particular, she said she had a difficult time drawing the backgrounds, explaining that she had to create 63 of them for her first episode alone, and it is only two minutes long. She added that she must type in different codes depending on how her characters move.

Sitting on the opposite side of the computer lab, Kara Flynn, also 9 and in third grade, was working on creating a new game based on the adventures of a character named Gobo.

“I’m making a game and what’s going to happen is [Gobo] is going to glide, and then when there’s something, like an obstacle, you’re supposed to jump over, or do whatever you need to do to get around it,” Kara explained. “And if you fail, you would get shot back to the beginning.”

Kara said she caught on to the coding techniques pretty quickly. “I’m just starting, but it wasn’t hard at all,” she added.

She explained that her biggest challenge was figuring out how to get Gobo to move up and down, though she quickly notes that she has since figured it out.

Coding is something that Kara has always wanted to learn, which is why she said she signed up as soon as she learned that it was going to be offered at her school.

“I think it’s very interesting—about coding,” Kara said. “And the school has clubs like this, but not really for third grade. It always has it for fifth and sixth [grades]. So, this was the only one for us.”

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Awesome job EQ students!!!
By crusader (383), East Quogue on Jun 19, 17 6:41 PM
Southampton Animal Shelter, Unconditional Love, Adoption