Building Code from Scratch

December 16, 2014- Neo found it. So did Morpheus. And over the past few months, sixth graders have too. There’s a whole world behind the apps and websites that we interact with every day and it’s populated by code. While our students did not dive down the rabbit hole into the Matrix (a fictional world of code in the movie of the same name), they have been learning how to create the strings of commands, conditional logic, and references that are the basic elements of everything from online research to daily scheduling and communication.

Under the guidance of Technology Integration Specialist, Ms. Zimmer, sixth graders have been working in various coding platforms during technology class. They started with Hopscotch, an app on the iPad that they used to create “spooky” animated Halloween stories. From there, they’ve moved to Scratch, a web-based, collaborative programming platform from MIT that has been snowballing since 2008. Scratch allows the students to write code in an easy to understand, visual block format and create mini-games or tell stories with animation, text, and audio. As a part of a larger online community, the students can share their work using anonymous pseudonyms and receive feedback. Following the open source spirit of the web, they can also explore their peers’ work to “see what’s inside” and find inspiration or bits of code that they can build upon or recycle in their own projects. 


Simple coding projects like these are intended to provide a foundation for learning more powerful languages such as Java and Python that are used to create apps and advanced programming on the Web. Next semester, Ms. Zimmer and Mr. Chambers will offer a middle school enrichment class in coding, 3D printing, and robotics. This group, by the way, also participated in the National Hour of Code, which took place last week during National Computer Science Education Week and generated 75,395,495 hours of code.

About Vail Mountain School

Founded in 1962, Vail Mountain School is a K-12, coed, independent school in Vail, Colorado. Our philosophy is to provide a demanding, college preparatory, liberal arts education in an atmosphere of mutual respect between faculty and students, where nurturing a healthy self-concept and stimulating academic inquiry are parallel objectives. Intentionally designed cross-age programs promote role modeling, responsibility, self confidence, and a sense of community. Our location in the Rocky Mountains allows us to integrate the outdoors into the academic and cultural fabric of the school through hut trips, all-school Ski Fridays, and other experiential learning opportunities. The result: our graduates possess a quiet confidence that serves them well in college and in life—confidence to assert themselves in their first college level essays; to raise their hand in a class of hundreds; to live on their own for the first time, to meet with and engage their professors; and to lead among their peers.