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Woodland students learn computer coding to help them solve complex math problems

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Students in Nate Alanko's math classes at Woodland Middle School learn how to solve complex mathematical formulas by programming computer to help them.

Middle school students in Nate Alanko's math classes use Chromebooks to code computers to help them solve complex problems.
Middle school students in Nate Alanko's math classes use Chromebooks to code computers to help them solve complex problems. 

Alanko's students learn how to program, called "coding," in order to use the processing power of computers to solve math problems. "In middle school, students learn how to order their operations and create functions, two integral elements of computer programming," he said. "There are a lot of correlations between the middle school math curriculum and coding which makes computer programming the perfect tool to enhance student understanding of the concepts."

Jacob Oathes (left) and Judeah Sanders (right), both eighth graders, collaborate to come up with a solution to their programming problem.
Jacob Oathes (left) and Judeah Sanders (right), both eighth graders, collaborate to come up with a solution to their programming problem. 

Students use Chromebooks with a special coding application called Scratch, provided by district levy funds. Scratch was specifically designed for younger students with no programming experience. The students learn coding to develop problem-solving skills when a computer program doesn't work the way they think it should. "Some students have a tough time dealing with getting stuck on different concepts," said Alanko. "In order to solve program errors, students collaborate with their classmates to help find solutions and learn how to use research to find different approaches."

Learning computer science at a young age can provide students with valuable opportunities for higher education and careers after graduation. "There are so many opportunities for scholarships for students who know how to code," explained Alanko. "Girls and minority students, especially, have access to a great number of scholarships so getting just a few students interested can make a huge difference in their futures."

Bella Mattison, a seventh grader, wants to become a forensic scientist and feels that learning to program computers will help her achieve her goals.
Bella Mattison, a seventh grader, wants to become a forensic scientist and feels that learning to program computers will help her achieve her goals. 

Alanko's students appreciate how learning to program helps them to learn math and can even help them reach their life goals. "I want to be a forensic scientist," explained Bella Mattison, a seventh grade student. "I can use computer programming to help figure out stuff in science, too." Shelby Esteb, an eighth grade classmate, agrees, "Coding helps me understand the math we're learning by showing me what went wrong and letting me fix it," she said. "I get a better understanding of how numbers and math concepts work together and coding really helps with that."

Alanko discovered his love for teaching in South Korea after receiving a degree in Mathematics from the University of Jamestown. His passion for travel resulted in him moving to Korea for six years where he taught business classes. "Once I started teaching there, I realized teaching was a natural career for my skill set," said Alanko. "I like how teaching is different every day; I never look at the clock like people do in other jobs."

In order to teach students how to code, Alanko utilizes free services and curriculum provided by a nonprofit organization called Code.org. "Code.org held a two-day course at Educational Service District 112 to train teachers how to use their resources," he said. "The organization provides self-directed curriculum for free to teachers throughout the United States." Started in 2013, Code.org's vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.

To learn more about Code.org, you can visit their website at www.code.org.

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