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Updated Jan 27, 2014 - 9:09 am

Program for success: Phoenix school sees value of computer coding

PHOENIX -- A Valley elementary school teacher is helping students get computer-programming experience long before high school or college.

Students at Whispering Wind Academy in Phoenix participated this month in the national Hour of Code, organized by the non-profit Code.org. Using what look like simple games, kids from kindergarten through sixth grade met in the school's computer lab to learn the basics of coding.

"The kids absolutely loved it and they just wanted to do more and more," said Wendy Taylor, the school's library media specialist.

After an overwhelmingly positive response from students, Taylor created a free afterschool coding club where kids continue to practice computer programming.

"They don't even understand how much they're learning and the way that they're getting trained," she said.

State Rep. Ruben Gallego is co-sponsoring a bill that would allow high school students to take a computer- science course that would fulfill one of the math courses required to graduate.

Taylor said it made sense to teach students while they're still young and have time to hone their skills. According to Code.org, the U.S. will need to fill 1.4 million computer-science jobs by 2020, but only about 400,000 people will be qualified.

"These are high-paying jobs," said Taylor. "They're going to be outsourced to other people in other countries."

She said more teachers needed to embrace technology in the classroom and figure out how students can best use it to their advantage.

"You can't be upset because a student wants to have their phone in class," she said. "You have to say, 'OK, how can we use that? How we can use these tablets and these iPads and these things that kids have in their hand?' "

Taylor said she believed it's only a matter of time until computer programming becomes a staple of the elementary school curriculum.

"The hope is that people understand it's important to put it in. That's where we're headed."

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