EXCHANGE: Club introduces skills for high-tech future



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QUINCY, Ill. (AP) — Teagan Mitchell had almost finished describing the coding club and all it has to offer when she remembered one more thing.

"I have to show you my floaties," the eighth-grader said.

Created with Java, Teagan's ghostlike creatures quickly multiply, even working together to push aside an open window on the computer screen.

Teagan's "floaties" are just one example of the coding, or programming, that piques the interest of about 25 members of the once-a-week after-school club at Quincy Junior High School.

"The goal is just to introduce coding to them, get them learning to code and wanting to do more," said Lisa Schwartz, the club's sponsor who teaches computer science to seventh- and eighth-grade students. "So many people are using apps on their phone, and they've all had to be programmed. Someone had to be behind it to think of the idea to program it."

In the future, that person could be someone like Teagan or maybe club member Xavier Phillips, another eighth-grader.

"Computers in general are kind of the future. I want to learn more about them to advance technology," Xavier said.

"Coding is the future. Everything's made of code anymore -- your phones, your computers, your video games," Teagan said. "If someone doesn't know how to code, you're not going to be part of the future as much as someone who does know how to code."

Xavier has finished coding two games with a third still a work in progress. Players use the space bar to jump over obstacles in one game, and in another, players blast phasers at UFOs to obtain the highest score. Seeing how the games play on his own, and with help from club member Nathan Garnett, led Xavier to do some refinements.

"I've added a move-slow button so you can make more precise movement," he said.

"I was his crash-test dummy for this project," Nathan said.

That kind of collaboration is key to the club -- and to today's technology-based industries.

"If you look at tech companies, they're working in teams to come up with programs. They've got different people working together," Schwartz said. In the QHJS club, "they help each other troubleshoot. I'm learning. I don't know everything, and they see my thought processes on how to figure out some things."

Although the students often hone skills on their own, "whatever you don't know how to do, someone else can teach you whether online or in real life," eighth-grader Julian Mackenzie said. "Coding helps you get involved with other people. It brings you to a whole new world of people, friends, opportunities and experiences."

Seeing what others have done online also inspires the students.

"I want to do that, too," eighth-grader Alex Madsen said. "You push yourself to get as good as they are at coding."

Club members start on a project with an idea in mind of how a game or website should work, then keep working, and reworking, the process to reach that goal.

"No matter what, there's always an outcome for whatever you think," Julian said, and if it's not right, "do it again."

The club provides a steppingstone to high school curriculum -- Teagan, for example, plans to take the website design class at Quincy High School next year -- and potential career options.

"It's a career, definitely," Xavier said. "That's what I'm planning to do. I kind of want to do programming, and I also want to do robotic things. I guess I could do both really."

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Source: The Quincy Herald-Whig, http://bit.ly/1WsJtm7

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Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig, http://www.whig.com

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The Quincy Herald-Whig.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Deborah Gertz Husar-Whig

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