Eureka Springs offers coding classes to elementary students
By Haley Schichtl
Arkansas is the only state that requires high schools to offer a computer science class. Eureka Springs offers coding classes not just for high school students, but also for elementary school students.
“We are the only one that has a full-time computer teacher for grades [kindergarten] to four,” Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said.
Pruitt said Eureka Springs decided to offer computer classes to their elementary students because district officials figured more schools would start doing the same before long.
“Younger kids are all so tech-y,” Pruitt said. “We knew it was coming, so why not go ahead and offer it?”
Former fourth-grade teacher Tilenna Hill began teaching coding last year when the program started. She has been a teacher for nine years and has taught at Eureka Springs for five years.
“I went to the Computer Science Teachers Association in Phoenix over the summer,” Hill said. “It was all kindergarten through post-secondary computer science teachers, and it was really cool to talk to others to get some advice. … It was very eye-opening and I got a lot of cool recommendations for different gadgets and devices we can use here in the class.”
Hill said she teaches a class to each grade from kindergarten through fourth, with about 20 students per class.
“In the kindergarten level, we do less plugged; they do their coding on sheets,” Hill said. “As they get into the third and fourth grade, they do more intense coding, and learn more actions they can do with their coding. It’s steppingstones each year.”
Hill said there is also a mentoring program between high school coding students and elementary students.
Third-grader Draven Cummings is part of the program. He also gets to work with the high school coding teacher, Adam Louderback. Draven said he is interested in coding as a career in the future, and he uses a more advanced program than the other students in his class.
The students are currently learning about cyber safety, including not giving away personal information online and how to avoid being hacked.
“It’s fun and hard,” fourth-grader Nola Walton said. “It’s hard when you do it, but it’s fun when you know it.”
Third-grader Magnolia Cagle agreed that coding can give a sense of accomplishment when it is done right.
“A lot of times when you mess up in a program, you have to restart all over,” Cummings said.
The students use tools like “Bee-Bots,” which help them visualize direction, and online coding websites for kids like code.org, codespark.com, and tynker.com.
Hill said these tools are not just good to help the kids understand concepts involved with coding, but they are fun for the students too. She said sometimes students get so invested in finishing what they are doing that they don’t want to leave the class.
However, fourth-grader Cooper Johnson said his favorite part of the class is Hill.
“She’s fun, and if we’re stuck on something she’ll help us,” Johnson said.