Middle school inspires kids to study Computer Science

At least half plan to continue after their first course.

December 9, 2014 -- Deacon Darrell Diem is the Computer Teacher at St John the Baptist Catholic School. The school, in Madison, Alabama, has over 450 students from K4-8. Middle school students (grades 6-7-8) attend computer class once a week: there are about 150 students learning programming.

The students are taught to program in JavaScript. It's the default programming language of the web, one of the most widely used programming languages today. JavaScript is fairly easy to learn: there are not a lot of prerequisites or mysterious error messages.

The students come to the classes already proficient in Microsoft Office and various utilities, but usually have no programming experience.

NS BASIC's AppStudio is used as the development platform.

"Its focus on mobile app development is a plus for the kids" says Darrell. "Not needing to get into 'weeds' with CSS and HTML is also helpful. The clean easily understandable interface is a real plus for kids who have no prior software 'tool' experience."

Students start by learning how to launch and set up an AppStudio project. They then learn the difference between a GUI and 'code space'. The first 'lesson' is on placing objects (a button) and the necessity of naming the object and setting properties. They then learn about 'events' and how to create them. Then they incorporate an alert into the event to show how a button responds during a 'run' cycle.

Next, they add a TextBox object, name it and set its properties. They learn how to extract the text from the TextBox and use alert to display the results. This is their first 'program'.

The students then extend the code to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers (demonstrating int, float, and data types here). They are expected to create a working four function calculator by semester's end.

"Some kids (about 1/3) want to pursue 'coding' as a career", according to Darrell. "However, you should know that Madison is a Techie Mecca. Their parents are mostly engineers with NASA or the Military. There are a few (about 10%) the initially say 'this stuff is boring!' They soon get with the program when they see how easy and logical it is."

About half say they will take additional courses in High School.

Deacon Darrell was born in Flint, Michigan. Darrell graduated from St. John Vianney High School. He was in the Air Force for four years as an electronics technician. Darrell has a BS in Physics/Math from Marquette University, an MBA from Michigan State, and an MA in Pastoral Ministries from St. Thomas University, Miami, Florida. Deacon Darrell has held a number of positions in high tech communications companies. He has published technical articles in software journals. He also holds software patents. Deacon Darrell has taught Programming, IT Management, and Business Ethics at two different universities. He also taught AP Physics at Catholic High (JPII) for a year.

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