Ada Harris ‘Scratch Day’ teaches kids coding

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Most kids aren’t enthused about going to school on a Saturday.

But for the 50 or so kids — and parents — at Ada Harris Elementary School Saturday morning, it was all smiles, thanks to “Scratch Day,” a four-hour event that’s part of a series of events across the country aimed at getting kids excited about computer programming.

“Scratch” is a simple computer coding language developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that allows users to develop simple games, animation and explore basic computer science concepts.

From the looks on the faces of the kids in attendance, Scratch Day was living up to its purpose.

“It’s really cool,” said Ry Windham, a fifth-grader at Ada Harris who attended with his dad, David. “I had to stop playing (video games) this morning to come, but it’s been fun.”

“So far, we’re digging it,” David Windham said, as Ry sat in front of a computer screen, dragging bits of computer code into a task box, causing his name, which was displayed on the computer screen, to light up and gyrate.

The program is called “Wiggly Name,” and it teaches kids the basics of programming — a series of instructions that deliver a certain outcome, in this case causing their names to light up, shake and become animated.

This was one of the basic games that kids learned Saturday in the school’s multi-purpose room. Volunteers taught intermediate and advanced scratch lessons — creating simple games and graphics — in two of the other rooms on campus, said Ido Tuchman, an attorney by trade who organized the North San Diego Scratch Day festivities.

“I don’t think all of these kids will grow up to be computer scientists, but this is a skill that is going to be a basic life skill as they grow up,” Tuchman said.

Alex Faber, a volunteer who oversaw the “Wiggly Name” course, echoed Tuchman’s sentiments. Faber said that with the employment sector shifting away from traditional middle class jobs such as manufacturing and becoming polarized with high-end technical positions on one end and service jobs on the other, it is critical for kids to get started on computer science at an early age.

“If you want to participate in that growing sector, you’re going to have to learn computer programming and language,” Faber said. “So I think events like this, which serve as an introduction, are very important.”

Matt Barre and Chris Haren, dads of two preschool girls, Ali and Sydney, agreed with Tuchman and Faber.

“It will be kind of a critical skill, everything is moving in that direction,” Matt Barre said. “So the earlier kids can get started on it, the better, for their careers, their school and their future.”

Haren, who said his daughter might not get the importance of today until she is older, said it still seemed like a good idea to come out and learn some things too.

“I thought it would be fun so we could learn together,” said Haren, who works as a consultant at Microsoft.

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