Seycove secondary Grade 8 students Maggie Whitmore (at left) and Jessie Bullen practise computer coding using iPads. Photo by: Paul McGrath
secondary is set to earn a high-profile accolade from Apple, as the
Cove area becomes known as a training ground for budding techies.
“What we tend to be east of Seymour is more progressive in embracing
different educational trends,” says Bryan Hughes, a teacher in Seycove’s
innovative Performance Learning Program. “There are a lot of parents
east of Seymour in tech-based jobs or who use coding on a daily basis.”
This specialty program at Seycove, which draws students from other
districts and has one cohort per grade, is described as a
technology-infused environment for motivated learners who want to
connect classroom instruction to the real world.
“They have to have transferable skills outside the fake environment of the classroom,” explains Hughes.
Demand is high for the program, which has no fee attached, except the
cost of an iPad. There is more interest than space available each year –
and it’s not a first come first serve basis for candidates, who face a
rigorous application process.
“We are looking for leadership skills,” explains Hughes.
Students in the PLP program partnered with educators earlier this year
at Oregon State University where they attended a marine biology field
school. There the students conducted interviews as part of an advocacy
and advertising project.
The Grade 9 students are going further afield, to Florida later in the school year.
In this multidisciplinary program students are learning English, social
studies, science and math, using a cross-curricular, inquiry-focused
Coding is the vehicle that drives the cross-curricular instruction.
While looping and HTML have been hit and miss in the past, there is
new-found enthusiasm among students – thanks to a new Apple app called
Swift Playgrounds, which makes coding approachable for kids.
“It’s designed for someone who has no experience coding,” explains
fellow Performance Learning Program teacher Petra Willemse of the
colourful and animated Swift Playgrounds app. “It’s almost like a
gamed-based environment where the student is lead through different
challenges and puzzles. It starts with the assumption you know nothing
and works up to be able to code an app for the iPhone or iPad.”
By writing lines of code, students control characters in their game.
Seycove student Daniel Wickstone sings the praises of the Swift
Playgrounds app. He reports all of his classmates are having a blast
playing with the app.
“That’s down to the fact that it is set up like a game,” says
Wickstone. “You can choose your character and there are different levels
so it feels like a game, so it’s a win-win-win scenario: the teacher is
teaching and we are learning and having fun at the same time.”
Willemse says the way the app is set up the students can learn at their
own pace – and they are “begging” to do more coding. “We were holding
them back artificially, they wanted to go ahead and do more and more and
more,” explains Willemse. “So, we sort of let them run with it.”
Seycove has been trialling this new coding app and Apple
representatives recently visited the school to get feedback from the
Seycove was part of the splash at the last big Apple keynote in September.
While Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered his address, on a slide behind him
was a list of schools around the world that are doing coding in the
classroom. Seycove shared in that honour.
“So that was sort of our claim to fame, that we were on that slide,” says Hughes.
Seycove is also expected to be named an Apple Distinguished Program
soon, according to Deneka Michaud, spokesperson for the North Vancouver
A couple streets over at Seycove’s feeder school, Cove Cliff
elementary, students are getting a jump start on Java and other
Cove Cliff elementary students Simon (at right) and Evan learn about looping, while their teacher Carolann Fraenkel looks on during a weekly coding class at the school. Photo by: Maria Spitale-Leisk
The school is one of the first in North Vancouver with a dedicated coding program for all grades.
Once a week students make their way to the computer lab for a coding
class, helmed by teacher-librarian Carolann Fraenkel, a computer science
“For me, coding is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. It teaches persistence,” says Fraenkel.
The kids’ eyes are glued to their monitors and widen as they control their animated characters by cracking the code.
“So, these kids are in there right now and they’re making an Angry
Birds game. They’re writing the codes to make the bird move to get the
pig,” says Fraenkel.
“I made it,” exclaims one student.
Another student nearby also claims victory.
“I feel really good because I finally did it and I figured out what the puzzle was. I like that it’s a challenge,” says Sara.
Today Fraenkel is teaching a lesson in looping.
She asks a student to walk around his chair three times to illustrate
looping – a sequence of instruction in a computer program continually
repeated until a certain goal is achieved.
“So, what he just did when you are coding is called a loop,” Fraenkel
tells her students. So, in coding we use loops for lots of different
things, but basically it’s just doing things over and over again.”
Next Fraenkel instructs the entire class to stand up and repeat after
her. She claps three times, then incorporates hand movements, and
another movement, all in sequential order.
“Anyone notice anything that repeated?” Fraenkel asks.
An early adopter of computer programming, Fraenkel is forecasting what skills students will need the most in the career world.
“There’s a prediction that in the year 2020 there will be more tech
jobs than any other jobs available for these kids. And they’ve got to
have the skills, their computer fluency – it’s a literacy thing really,”
To illustrate her point, Fraenkel asks students to put their hand up if
their mom or dad works with computers on a daily basis. A sea of hands
shoot up in the air.
“My dad designs buildings on the computer.”
“My dad designs cars.”
“My dad, he designs things from his computer and gives them to people so they can make them.”
“My dad does computer stuff like designing engines and then they move.”
“My dad makes computer chips.”
Their responses reaffirm Hughes’ point about the Seymour area being a hub for techie parents.
In fact, Cove Cliff’s Parent Advisory Council funded the school’s computer lab four years ago.
“And when they heard about the (coding program), they were all over this,” says Fraenkel.