LEWISTON — When Longley school teacher Alicia Clifford recently showed her first-grade students an Angry Birds video game, explaining to them the challenge was to figure out a puzzle, students were excited, she said.
The goal is to figure out how to get the Angry Bird to the pig.
“How do we do that?” Clifford asked, holding the game. “Do we want him to go north, south, east or west?”
As students worked on the puzzle, they were building a beginner computer code.
On Thursday, Dec. 7, Longley will hold Family Code Night, inviting Longley and Martel school parents and students to play games and learn introductory computer coding. It will be held from 5:15 to 7 p.m. at Longley.
The school will have five classrooms set up with at least 10 laptops. “We are planning for 50 pairs of participants but will be happy to accommodate more students and families if we have a good turnout,” Clifford said.
One student and one parent will win a screen device, Clifford said.
In addition to the games, Longley is providing a free pizza dinner, and Martel’s PTO is providing dessert.
Free food always helps attendance, the teacher acknowledged with a smile. “When you hear ‘Code Night,’ you think, ‘What in the world?’” Clifford said.
“But parents need to know this is important. This could change a kid’s life,” Clifford said. It could get them interested in engineering, computer science, going to college or designing video games.
Science and engineering programs aren’t popular with some young students, she said, but she’s hoping that may change beginning with Family Code Night.
Family Code Night started in California and is observed throughout the country. It “ignites coding and computer science learning at an elementary school and in any family,” according to the website, familycodenight.org.
The Lewiston School Department’s director of instruction technology, David Theriault, agreed it could change futures.
“There are a lot of jobs out there now that involve computer coding, computer programmers, cybersecurity,” he said. “My son is a programmer.”
But too many students, especially girls, are never introduced to the field, Theriault said. Most computer techs are male.
Family Code Night, exposing students to the possibility with a game at their level, “helps to make it happen,” Theriault said. “That’s why I’m excited about it, so we get more techs, both male and female, in the world.”
By playing the game on laptops, youngsters will also build computer skills, such as how to move a house, drop and drag, skills that will help them as they continue to work on computers in school and life, Clifford said.
After Family Code Night, she hopes to bring laptops into classes every two months to continue to increase interest in computer education.
Longley’s Family Code Night is sponsored by the Reach Center, a project of the Maine Math and Science Alliance.
Alicia Clifford, a first-grade teacher at Longley Elementary School, invites Longley families to Family Code Night on Dec. 7 so students and parents can play games and learn about basic computer coding. There are good jobs in computer science and coding, experts say, but children need to be exposed to the field early. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)