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Taking Code to the Classroom

Drexel begins its early observance of the National Computer Science Education Week by hosting a variety of events from a computer programming competition to a workshop on making video games. One project could have an impact that lasts well beyond the week of computer science celebration.

Classes of sixth, seventh and eighth graders at St. Francis de Sales School will get a taste of freshman computer science at Drexel this Friday when a handful of undergraduates venture up Baltimore Ave. to pay a visit.

The trip is part of the week’s “Hour of Code” campaign intended to demystify coding and make it accessible to students at all grade levels. The undergraduates are members of DUCSTeach (pronounced “ducks”), a student group -whose claimed the feathery acronym referring to Drexel’s Computer Science Department- that wants to use its collective technological and computer savvy to help students and teachers.

“We’ll be doing a version of a lab that freshman computer science majors would do in ‘Intro to Computer Science’ at Drexel,” said Dan Ziegler, an undergraduate computer science major who started the group. “One exercise will show them how to set up formulas and the second one will teach them how to manipulate the formulas using basic coding techniques.”

The group will be working with about 40 students, from grades six to eight, during two class periods.

Dan Ziegler and the DUCSTeach group will continue its visits to St. Francis de Sales throughout the year.

Ziegler hatched the idea for DUCSTeach last fall during his honors section of Intro to Computer Science. When the professor, Dr. Jeffrey Popyack, challenged his honors students to fulfill their five-hour freshman service requirement by pooling their collective knowledge and talents to do something that could make a difference well beyond the end of the semester.“I was always the guy who got called up by the teacher to help fix the projector,” Ziegler said.

Gathering a group of his classmates, who also needed to fulfill their service requirement, Ziegler connected with St. Francis de Sales School through the Computer Science Department’s outreach coordinator.

St. Francis is a Catholic, K-8 school with a passion for providing its students with STEM education opportunities. Each of its 500 students is equipped with either an iPad or a Netbook at school and teachers use a state-of-the-art learning management system called “It’s Learning” along with smart boards in the classroom.Sue Small is the technology coordinator at St. Francis –she is the one who gets called up by the teachers to fix their smart boards.

It was a natural connection.

During Computer Science Education Week last year, Ziegler and a handful of his peers went to de Sales to meet with students from Small’s “Technology Club” to give them some pointers on coding. The hour-long session went so well that the Drexel group decided to make weekly visits to the school for the rest of the school year, helping the students to build websites and even participate in a coding competition.

“I teach them all I can,” said Small of her Tech Club students. “But this opportunity with Drexel is a way to help them continue learning. If the Drexel students continue to work with them, they can teach them more than I can. Whether they go into computer science or not, just having this basic knowledge and understanding of computing can help them in the long run.”

Ziegler even reprised his old role as teacher’s technology assistant by joining his peers to help St. Francis teachers become fluent in using their learning management system and smart boards.

“Sometimes they’re too scared or frustrated to mess up in front of their students, so they won’t use the technology or won’t use it to its full extent until they’re comfortable with it,” Ziegler said. “And if teachers aren’t ‘going digital’ it’s a setback for their students.”

For a full schedule of Computer Science Education Week activities at Drexel visit:

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