Carolina Voyager Charter School aims to develop '21st century learners'

Lucas Crawford, director of technology at Carolina Voyager Charter School, goes over a lesson about coding using a game called Kodable.

On a recent Monday morning, second-grader Gabriel James proudly declared that he had already earned three stars on every level of the iPad game Kodable.

"You have to make sure you get to the end of the maze," James declared, explaining how to win the game.

But James wasn't referring to a game he plays at home. Instead, he was talking about a game he and his classmates at Carolina Voyager Charter School recently began playing as part of the national event for the Hour of Code, held Dec. 8-14.

The one-time event aimed at exposing students to computer science has become the launching point from which Carolina Voyager plans to make computer coding a permanent fixture when students return in January.

School Leader Harry Walker said the school plans to add elements of computer coding into its curriculum for first- and second-graders with biweekly lessons that teach students about the concepts of basic computer commands.

The point of the technology based learning, Walker said, is to turn students into "21st century learners."

"We're not going into this thinking about creating a bunch of programmers," Walker said. "It really comes down to helping our children develop problem solving skills."

Carolina Voyager opened its doors this fall in downtown Charleston with a charter through the Charleston County School District. The school offers a "blended learning" environment, which combines traditional teaching with targeted use of technology.

Lucas Crawford, Carolina Voyagers' director of technology, said the focus of the coding lessons will largely be gamed-based learning, with students being exposed to basic coding concepts through games such as Kodable.

In the games, Crawford said, students give characters directional commands to complete a course. With each level, students are tasked with completing harder courses by looping procedures to direct their characters to the finish line.

"It's about commands and sequence through patterns of movement," Crawford said.

During a recent second-grade coding lesson where Crawford familiarized the students on the coding games, the children sat impatiently peeking at their iPads while waiting for permission to tackle the next level of the game.

Student Trey Grant said he likes making the characters in Kodable, called fuzzes, move to earn points by collecting coins.

"I like to get the coins," Grant said. "It's cool."

Walker said he hopes the new curriculum will give students the skills they need to navigate an increasingly technology based world.

"We're always looking for purposeful ways to introduce technology," he said. "It's not necessarily about teaching a children about computer programming, but more about developing skills for future employment."