January 9, 2018

by Lisa Proulx

Activities and Visit to High Tech Labs Put College and Career Top of Mind

PORTSMOUTH – Students at Garrison Elementary School in Dover are getting hands-on experience in computer coding, thanks to professors and students from Great Bay Community College. The college has taught coding and other computer-related programming skills at technical schools and high schools in the Seacoast since 2014, and this year expanded to the elementary-school level because it’s never too early to introduce the wonder and love of coding to young people, said Mike Harrison, faculty member in the college’s Information Systems Technology department.

“We want students to get excited about technology early on,” Harrison said. “Fourth grade is a good starting point. Fourth grade seems to be a sweet spot. They get excited, and are like sponges. They absorb the information, and they enjoy it.”

On Friday January 12th , the elementary school students will also come to Great Bay campus for a field trip. “We will split them up in a couple of groups, with half going to the networking lab and half going to the computer programming lab, and then we’ll swap those groups,” Harrison said. After lunch, the students will work on logic puzzles in the Great Bay gym. “It gives them the chance to try out a little technology and see if it’s something they like and might want to pursue,” Harrison said.

Bringing the students to the College will provide them with the chance to participate in hands-on activities using computers and lab equipment that is not available within an elementary school system  Harrison added.  “The computer labs are filled with state-of-the-art equipment and the networking labs have corporate level networking equipment with no restrictions or firewalls to limit our exploration.  For the future “geeks” in the crowd we will tease and spoil them for a day.”

Nancy Colarusso, a teacher at Garrison Elementary School, began talking with Great Bay about forging a partnership in 2016. In Harrison, she found an educator who shared her belief that elementary school students are ready for the challenge of coding. Through the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association, Harrison has traveled to several New Hampshire schools in recent years introducing the concept of coding to students at various grade levels. Great Bay is funding the partnership with Garrison through a Perkins Grant, a federal program designed to improve career and technical programs.

Colarusso called the Great Bay collaboration “unique and unprecedented in this area.” Generally, students learn about coding in middle school “but we wondered if it would be good if they started in fourth grade. We said, ‘Let’s give them the exposure.’”

In addition to introducing the concept of coding, the class is important because it introduces students to broader computer skills. Many of the students have used tablets, but most have not used a mouse or keyboard. Students must use specific keystrokes and be proficient with a mouse to complete the light-sequencing exercise, Colarusso said.

The class also introduces them to Great Bay and the concept of college. “It gets them to think beyond elementary school, and it shows them, ‘This is something I can do in the future.’ It puts college in their sights,” she said.

Great Bay computer science student Taylor Bent, 22, assisted Harrison in the elementary school classroom, helping the youngsters with a project that involved programming mini-traffic lights. With a few clicks of a mouse and a handful of keyboard strokes, the kids learned to code the 2-inch circuit board, determining the sequence of lights and their timing.

The lesson demonstrates how computer coding works and shows how prevalent it is in everyday aspects of our world – and how much fun it is to do.

Bent, who grew up in Dover, said the Garrison kids are lucky to have the chance to experience coding while they are so young. Those skills will serve them well in their studies and in life, he said. “The fact that these kids get to learn about computers and coding is really quite amazing,” he said. “These kids will be coming to me for a job interview in a few years, and probably surpassing me in the job field. It’s nice feeling to know we’re bringing their education further along.”

Great Bay Community College is a comprehensive postsecondary institution offering quality academic and professional and technical education in support of workforce development and lifelong learning. Great Bay Community College is part of the Community College System of New Hampshire, a public system of higher education consisting of seven colleges in Berlin, Claremont, Laconia, Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth.  The colleges offer Associate degrees and career training in technical, professional and general fields, including transfer pathways to baccalaureate degrees. The college’s second campus, the Advanced Technology & Academic Center is now open in Rochester offering academic courses and a degree program in Advanced Composites Manufacturing. For more information on Great Bay Community College, visit www.greatbay.edu.