MELROSE – Puzzled looks filled the faces of more than 20 kids as they peeked from behind their laptops at the Melrose Public Library recently.
It wasn’t books they were crinkling their eyebrows over, it was the first session of a six-week course on coding taught by Melrose physician Joseph Rush.
On Jan. 17, sixth-grade students from Melrose Elementary School got a chance to learn some of the ins and out of coding through an interactive module that resembles a video game.
“I’ve been a lifetime teacher,” Rush said. “I love children. I went into family medicine because I love kids, and this is an opportunity to teach them an important skill.”
Melrose Library Branch Manager Sheree Sims said Rush set up the class up almost single-handedly. The library asked for him to come and teach a course and Rush showed up, ready to teach with dozens of laptops for students to use, free of charge.
When asked if this is a way to give back to his community, he declined the notion of the term “give back,” and instead said it’s a way for him to teach, something he loves to do.
In the first week of coding, students played games online that taught them how to code. Specifically, they had to build code blocks that when applied together would make an object move from one side of a maze to the destination at the end. On its surface, it seemed like a simple game, but a deeper look reveals that what this program is doing is teaching kids how computer codes dictate what a program can and can’t do.
One of the coding rules the class learned to make the maze game work was something Rush called the Left-Hand Rule.
“Do you guys know how Batman escapes?” Rush asked the class. “He used the Left-Hand Rule. He puts his hand on the wall to his left and keeps running his hand along the wall as he moves forward until he finds an exit.”
As one would expect in a group of over two dozen kids, some students were better than others. One sixth-grader, 12-year-old Keagun Hughes, stayed a few steps ahead of the class almost the entire time.
The coding program consisted of 10 levels and if the class was working through level five, Hughes was on level seven and so on. Hughes said he might’ve been ahead because in the past, he’s done this before. He also said that going hands-on with coding is a lot of fun.
“It’s so much fun,” Hughes said. “I think I like being able to do it hands on so we can actually experience what it’s like and how it works.”
Despite the fun he has coding, though, Hughes’ dreams lie elsewhere. He wants to be a professional baseball player. When he retires, though, he might put coding to use because after baseball, Hughes wants to become an astronomer, something he says he thinks he could use coding in.
Hughes’ teacher, Laurén Morgan, said his future is bright, in part, due to programs like this. According to Morgan, last year, the library hosted an art program that allowed the kids to go hands-on with art. This year, the class traded paint brushes for laptop trackpads.
“[Coding] is an additional aspect of the curriculum that we don’t have right there [Melrose Elementary School] so we get to walk over here and do six weeks of walking field trips here...to code with Dr. Joe,” Morgan said. “They’ll also get to have this tangible technological experience while interacting with their peers, which is great.”
Morgan said these kinds of experiences are of the utmost importance.
“These are honor students and I’m teaching them all...of the standards, but this can push them in another direction to see what they can do in the future,” Morgan said. “There are endless possibilities for them. Each and every one of my kids has the potential to be whatever they want to be.”