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Deep Cove students crack the code

November 09, 2016

By Maria Spitale-Leisk / North Shore News


Seycove secondary Grade 8 students Maggie Whitmore (at left) and Jessie Bullen practise computer coding using iPads. Photo by: Paul McGrath

Seycove 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 approach.

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 students.
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 School District.

A couple streets over at Seycove’s feeder school, Cove Cliff elementary, students are getting a jump start on Java and other programming languages.


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 fanatic.

“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,” she says.

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.

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