A global master LEGO trainer visited Barre City Elementary and Middle School Tuesday to boost children’s abilities to understand the fundamental principles of computer coding.

Bonnie Morissette was one of several education professionals at the school during The Hour of Code, promoted by Code.org, which takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 3-9.

Morrissette is one of three global master LEGO trainers in the United States who uses the building blocks of LEGO to help make connections between the pieces of code in computer programming that are the instructions for a multitude of applications.

She was joined Tuesday in Barre by another colleague from Boston and education officials from the state and other Vermont schools.

Students pre-K through Grade 4 were tasked with learning the rudiments of computer programming on iPads to make a small electric fan run, speed up and slow down and run in reverse. Other students were asked to build a descent ramp for a small vehicle and figure out how to make it roll faster by increasing the height of the ramp at one end. Barre City Elementary and Middle School was the only Vermont school to receive a visit from a LEGO global master trainer, although there were similar computing activities at other Barre schools.

Ben Matthews, technology integration specialist at BCEMS, said the day’s activities had been a big success to inspire students to make the connection between computers and practical applications.

“It’s to give students hands-on exposure, understanding and excitement around the fundamentals of computer science,” Matthews said. “This is part of a larger computer-science awareness week that we’re running this week in conjunction with the International Hour of Code.”

“We really wanted to give these students less computer-based and more hands-on examples of the fundamentals of computer science. The idea of coding, looking at a complicated problem in little pieces, sequencing, the idea of loops, and the idea of discreet coding steps to tell a machine to do something,” Matthews said.

Peter Drescher, state education technology coordinator, said the state developed a computer coding program about five years ago to meet the growing demand for student graduates with computing skills.

“This event has to do with LEGO programming,” Drescher said. “They’re using a whole bunch of stations with some students on the computer iPads, programming things.

“The purpose with the Hour of Code, supported by Code.org and their mission, is to bring more awareness and exploration by students in the computer-science fields, and coding and programming in general. They’re giving kids exposure to that, so if it’s a career path they’d like to choose, we get them earlier on and they can develop it in their secondary school work,” he said.

Morissette lives in Concord, New Hampshire, but travels around the country training teachers how use to use computer programming and LEGOs to inspire students to join the dots to understand the links to building practical applications.

“I run an academy of teacher trainers in the United States that are responsible for doing teacher training across the state,” Morissette said. “Our philosophy of teaching and learning is about hands-on and helping kids build their skills with learning through play and being in the world.”

“They’re learning to listen and follow instructions which is really important if they’re going to build things. So over here, they’re building things and coding a robot. The students are then going over there and they’re having a much easier time than students that didn’t have any instructions. So, they working together, collaborating and persevering to make it work, which is a lot of the skills students need to go out into the world and do what we need them to do,” she said.

Other education officials involved in the day’s activities included: Morissette’s Boston colleague, Jennifer Nash; Jackie Tolman, curriculum director for the Barre Supervisory Union; Emmanuel Ajama, director of technology for the Barre Supervisory Union; and Paul Irish, former technology director for the Burlington school district.

stephen.mills

@timesargus.com

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