Hawthorne Coding Club builds skills, interests in coding

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Hawthorne Elementary’s Coding Club wrapped up the school year on Wednesday with a showcase to parents of what members accomplished during their meetings after school.

Club advisors Rhonda Letterior and Megan Winand described the various activities students completed and talked about their progression in coding, from learning the fundamentals to applying the coding language to make robots move. Then, parents watched a video that showed students working on their final projects: They programmed a path for their coding robots, Spheros, to follow. Some paths featured obstacles and ramps for their robots to maneuver around.

“You can watch them lay out those patterns and think through the process and the questions that they ask and the way they ask the things they do —  it’s inspiring,” said Letterio, an English Learners teacher. She and Winand, a special education teacher, both volunteer to provide the experience for students.

After a year hiatus because of the pandemic, the Hawthorne Coding Club resumed this year with 180 students in grades 3, 4 and 5 interested in joining. Forty were selected following an application and interview. All but five are first-time members and are learning about coding for the first time.

“We want to expose them to different forms of materials,” Winand said. “There are so many different ways to learn how to code, design, engineer and build. They may latch onto the coding part, they may like the design part or they may like all of it together.” 

The Hawthorne Coding Club, previously known as the Hawthorne Hackers, started six years ago with Winand and Chris Poynter, now principal at Emerson and Longfellow elementaries. The club was created as a way to provide students with more learning experiences outside the school day.

They started with mini circuit boards before moving on to other technologies. After Poynter left, Letterio joined Winand to lead the club and they are continually updating their curriculum. They’ve introduced students to a variety of coding tools such as RedBoard, Breadboard, littleBits and Ozobots. They received financial support for their materials from grants and the school’s PTO. 

Through the projects, Letterio and Winand hope students discover they are creative, strong learners who can apply the problem-solving and critical thinking skills they are developing beyond the coding club.

They recall one student who said she wanted to become an engineer, inspired by the projects she did through the club.

“It’s that kind of thinking where those weren’t thoughts before,” Letterio said. “That’s what I want for these kids. I want them to be able to say I started my process in third-, fourth-, fifth-grade. I was given an opportunity that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else and I had fun doing it.”