Armando Sanchez (left) and Trinitee Walker (center) enjoy coding in their after-school program as much as any other activity—even Fortnite.

In an after-school program at Southside Elementary, second grade kids are learning to use code—the building blocks of computer programming; in the coming months they eventually will use it to build a robot.

Not many 7 and 8-year-olds get the opportunity to learn robotics, but high-tech, kid-friendly kits called Playosmo Osmo are making it possible for these second-graders —along with help and patience from teacher Julie Schoppe. The children are learning skills that will open doors for them later in life.

It's all part of the Texas Afterschool Centers Program (TACE). The students learn the basics of coding, the sequential process that underlies computer language and programming. Those skills will give them a head start in robotics and computer science.

The children use manipulative kits to give directions to a character named Coding Awbi, an animated robot that appears on an iPad screen and moves according to the students' directions. Awbi moves only where directed, so the students learn immediately if their input is correct.

Each child has a tray of electronically-live blocks they connect in a pattern to show the steps Coding Awbi will follow. Students also have a control center called a Playosmo Osmo. Students manipulate the blocks to arrange a sequence, which appears on the screen.

Once they press a command button, Coding Awbi performs the actions—and the kids see him follow their steps onscreen. “It’s very engaging and interactive,” Schoppe said.

The kits are so fun and simple to use, the kids don't realize they're training themselves to think like computer scientists.

Schoppe, instructional technology director at Northside Primary and Southside Elementary schools, said using the program and kits encourages kids to build cause-and-effect statements, which are the basis of computer languages.

The foundations they are learning with Coding Awbi will eventually lead to more complex projects, but for now, the kids are learning to work together. If one student's Coding Awbi doesn't seem to follow directions, it's okay to ask a neighbor how to make it happen. Students can share and discuss what Coding Awbi can do with their commands.

Everyone in the class is on task, staying busy with the electronic, kid-friendly kits.

Trinitee Walker, 7, likes to swim, color, draw, and read, but she also likes directing Coding Awbi. “Coding is fun,” Walker said.

Armando Sanchez, 8, is a fan of Fortnite, an online, interactive video game, but said he also likes to code.

At one point, the students begin singing, and the chatter dies down as more join in. No one is running around the room, hiding under a table, or having a meltdown.

“We’re building that collaboration—working together to make things better,” Schoppe said.

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