Code Camp: Students learn the basics of computer science

HARLINGEN — Francisco De La Garza’s fingers typed away on the iPad, hitting the glowing blue bars with a trace of controlled frustration.

His eyes remained steady on the screen, but no matter how much he tapped the bars, the orange glowing “sphero” just sat there on the floor.

Francisco, 11, was one of 30 sixth graders who attended Code Camp this week at Rising Scholars Academy of South Texas. The camp, which ran from June 27 to 30, taught students from throughout the Valley the basics of computer programming. They also developed logic and math skills while learning how to code, which means programming with a code using the binary computer language. That language is made of ones and zeros.

Thursday was the last day of Code Camp, and David Rivera, lead teacher, said it had been very successful.

“It’s going awesome,” said Rivera, who teaches technology at Rising Scholars, part of the South Texas Independent School District.

“The kids are loving it,” Rivera said. “Every day they seem excited. It’s a fun challenge.”

The camp was open to students throughout the Valley, but most were from the Harlingen-Brownsville area. The students were divided into teams of three. Rivera said the teams were frequently changed so the students could work with numerous kids they’d never met.

Meanwhile, Francisco and the two other boys currently on his team were trying to get that “sphero” to move. It lay there motionless, almost as if to mock technology’s inability to make it do anything.

The boys were not giving up. In fact, to an extent the difficulty was serving as a sort of lesson in which the students were problem solving through trouble shooting. Francisco was obviously trying different approaches to move the ball, with input from Joshua Villarreal, 11, and Oom Bhakta, 11. In the midst of their struggle to move the sphero, they explained some of what they’d been doing.

“We have to program it to make it move,” said Francisco, a sixth grader at Kenmont-The Montessori School in Brownsville.

Joshua added they could program the sphero to move in straight lines, circles and other shapes.

“We use an app called Tickel,” said Joshua, a sixth grader at Manzano Middle School in Brownsville.

Francisco looked intently at the screen and then the sphero. What was wrong? They’d performed the programming operations correctly. He continued staring at the screen, all three of them trying to diagnose the problem.

The colorful spheros rolling across the floor made it obvious other teams were having more luck. Sarah Benavides, 11, typed on her iPad.

The IDEA Academy-San Benito sixth grader seemed to have developed a striking fluency with the iPad as she directed the sphero. People kept having to step out of the way as it rolled past. Not only that, spheros from several teams had close calls, but their controllers intercepted them in time.

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