Our Lady of Fatima Elementary Adds Visual Programming Course to Core Curriculum

Programming is the language of the future, as well as the key to a world of limitless job opportunities. As millions of Americans and children spend numerous hours on their technological devices, such as computers, iOS products, Android devices and gaming consoles, very few understand how they operate. Our Lady of Fatima Elementary School (O.L.F.), an independent, Catholic, coeducational school in Biloxi, MS, now offers its former visual programming course to its curriculum for third through sixth grades.

While in-person coding programs for kids are quickly gaining popularity across the country, O.L.F. has taken initiative to offer a fun, innovative course for students. What used to be a 10 week, once a week, hour long after school introductory programming course is now a once a week, hour long, in depth course that focuses on improving each child’s conceptual development skills, software and hardware skills, as well as soft skills.

This expert-led course introduces students to the essential building blocks behind object-oriented programming, as well as shows students how to create project ideas by utilizing Design Journals, which essentially is a mockup that provides a preview of the student’s project/interface through design stages and the inclusion of sprites (characters) for creating a game or story. Today’s programmers create mockups for websites and mobile apps.

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This course empowers students with basic programming knowledge utilizing Scratch, a visual programming language, online community and project from the MIT Media Lab (http://scratch.mit.edu). Scratch empowers students to think critically and creatively, reason systematically, program their own stories, games and 2D animations, share their creations on the web, and even calculate math problems, as students work with the Scratch Stage which consists of (X,Y) coordinates. Scratch is used in more than 150 different countries, available in more than 40 languages and currently boasts over seven million projects on its website from users around the world.

Sandy Davis, O.L.F.’s programming course instructor and software/mobile applications developer, truly believes in the power of Scratch. “From a developer’s perspective, Scratch is a great way of introducing students to the programming world,” said Davis. “Students are able to visually see the blocks and understand what each block is meant for, since Scratch utilizes color-coded blocks (motion, control, events, etc.). Scratch also helps students develop problem-solving skills; by coming up with their own ideas in their Design Journals, they are able to determine how to build their project from start to finish in Scratch.”

Code.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to growing K-12 computer science education in America, claims that computer-programming jobs are growing at twice the U.S. national average, while less than 2.4% of college students graduate with degrees in computer science. Code.org predicts there will be one million more computer programming jobs than students by 2020, which could present lucrative job opportunities for programmers.

Cindy Hahn, O.L.F.’s Principal, believes in giving their students as many "tools" in their "toolbox" to prepare them higher education, but most importantly for life. “In the rapid changing world of technology, we must begin preparing students early in life to use and to be comfortable with technology. We feel this program will provide them with the background knowledge, skills, and application of skills to enhance their academic and technology toolbox to be able to achieve their full potential.”

O.L.F.’s mission is to provide a Catholic education which supports and encourages students to their fullest potential. With so much interest in today’s innovative gadgets and gizmos, O.L.F. created this course to be educational and fun. While this is the first time O.L.F. has offered this type of course in its curriculum, O.L.F. is excited to offer a course that can teach students important strategies for solving problems, designing projects and communicating ideas, while preparing them for the future of complex technology that awaits their generation.

Cindy Hahn, Principal, chahn@olfschool.org
Our Lady of Fatima Elementary, (228) 388-3602

John Shinn, Board Member, john@ppsplus.com
PPS Plus Software, (228) 594-9660