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Kids Can Now Learn to Code at the Westbrook Library

Published Sep. 11, 2019

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Middle-school aged kids in Westbrook with an interest in coding will have an opportunity to learn the basics at their public library in a new five-week course starting later this month.

For the first time, the Westbrook Public Library will offer what it’s calling a Coding Camp for students in the 5th grade and up on Friday afternoons. Registration is free.

“This is very basic,” said Brittany Pearson, the library’s young adult librarian, who will teach the course. “We’ll be starting them out with drag-and-drop coding...Then, if they do well, we can do a second, advanced series.”

Students will be limited to 20, the number of laptops the library purchased with a 2018 Westbrook Foundation grant. The program will take place on Friday afternoons in the Community Room.

The fact that the laptops are half Mac and half PC “won’t affect this course because most of these are online programs,” Pearson explained. “So they’re just going to be going on the Internet.”

What They’ll Learn

Drag-and-drop programs teach beginning coding with user-friendly interfaces, allowing students to learn the basics without needing to master coding syntax, or typed commands. Students will start off learning to make graphics move on screen. Next they’ll work with Lego WeDos, physical robots that the students will build themselves.

The WeDo robots can be constructed according to existing designs, Pearson said, or the students can “figure out their own.” The materials come in kits that she will borrow from the LION library consortium.

The students will “learn to use drag and drop to control how the robot works in a three-dimensional space,” she said.

Pearson has been working toward providing more STEM opportunities and computer access at the library to both children and adults. The fall Coding Camp came out of her work with Westbrook Parks & Recreation’s Teen Summer Camp.

“Every summer the last three or four summers, I’ve taken a Wednesday to go to the Park & Rec [camp] at the middle school and I bring in some sort of STEM activity: WeDos, maker bots, snap circuits,” she said.

Each Wednesday morning, camp staff makes a list of 10 children who are interested in participating.

While parents sign their kids up for one week of camp at a time, “we do get a lot of the same kids every week,” Pearson said. “[I]t’s always packed and the kids really enjoy it.”

The kids’ enthusiasm led Pearson to pursue the possibility of offering a class at the library. While the middle school has a new coding club for students, students are busy with many activities and might not be able to fit it in, she explained. The library program provides another opportunity to learn.

Not Just Fun and Games

“It is fun, but I know that STEM careers are the largest growing field in America right now,” she said. “The earlier you get kids interested in that, you can prepare them for taking the right math and science courses” later on.

“We want to help kids...that don’t have access to these technologies at home,” she said. “There’s no other place in town for them to learn things like this.”

The basic design is completed for the library’s new tech room, for which Pearson advocated, and will go out to bid soon, she said. While the room will be available to patrons of all ages, there will be specific after-school hours for students to use the room for homework and projects.

“We haven’t finalized any of the scheduling on it yet,” she said, but the open hours for students only is “definitely guaranteed.”

“We’re very limited [in] computers; we have 16 computers right now,” Pearson said. “They get taken up quite a lot by the adults.”

Having dedicated after-school tech room hours will allow students to “get their assignments done without being distracting to other patrons. It will be nice to have an open space for them.”

Those wishing to register their children for the Coding Club should call the Westbrook Public Library at 860-399-6422. The class will begin on Friday, Sept. 20 and run through Friday, Oct. 18. It is open to students in grade 5 and up.

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