As muggles, they may not have gotten acceptance letters from Hogwarts this year, but for Jefferson-Morgan seventh-graders, a new Harry Potter-themed coding class is the next best thing.
Instead of casting magic spells, they’ll learn to use coding wands and an app to complete tasks and puzzles on a tablet. Meanwhile, in their literature classes, they’ll be reading through the “Harry Potter” books to tie the curriculums together.
“They’re at the age where ‘Harry Potter’ is a good read and a good fit for them,” said the coding teacher, Danielle Shrader. “It’s the closest thing they can get to creating magic.”
Shrader, who’s been a math teacher at Jefferson-Morgan middle school for six years, said she came up with the coding wands idea after the district asked her to teach computer science last year.
Shrader said that last year she was nervous about teaching her first computer coding course, but since then, it’s a subject about which she’s become “very passionate.”
“Coding is a skill that kids need for the real world,” she said. “This is something they can get a career from.”
She saw the Harry Potter Kano coding kits in an Apple store and decided to pilot them in her first multi-level introduction to coding class last year.
“The wand is similar to a mouse,” said the teacher, Danielle Shrader. “The kids have to write the computer code in order to make the wand work.”
She said they have to write the computer code to make spells work, then point the wand at the tablet, and flick it certain ways to do certain spells.
“They have to write the correct code to match the spell they plan to use,” Shrader said. “One of the first things they learn to do is create fireworks on the screen. Half the screen is the code they’re working on, the other side is what’s supposed to happen from the spell.”
The first nine kits were $100 each with a free app. She paid for them through community donations and local grants. This year additional grants from the Greene County Chamber of Commerce paid for six more. Shrader said she’s thankful for those donations, as are her students.
“The kids love it,” she said. “The theme of Harry Potter behind it has worked very well. It engages them and makes them extremely excited to make their codes work.”
Shrader, a Harry Potter fan herself, gets really into the theme by decorating her classroom with Quidditch hoops, Deathly Hallows symbols and flags from the four houses of Hogwarts – Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin and Hufflepuff.
“I grew up with Harry Potter,” Shrader said. “I was the age of Harry Potter when the books came out.”
When her students start the trimester class this year, Shrader will have the Harry Potter theme song playing in the background. As per Hogwarts tradition, the students put on the magical sorting hat and will be sorted into houses by a sorting hat app.
“I designed the app, and they’ll be designing their own apps during the course, too,” she said.
Just like in the novels, the students will compete in a house cup, and will achieve points based on how many coding tasks or puzzles they complete.
“The house cup was something I added to kind of engage them a little bit more,” she said.
The theme and competition act as an incentive for students who may have otherwise struggled with coding or math problem solving, Shrader said.
“A lot of kids don’t like math, but they like to write code and they’re doing all the math that’s behind it,” she said.
Her class is just one of the many computer science and engineering courses the district has added in the last two years, according to Superintendent Joseph Orr.
“Across the state, there’s been a big initiative to advance computer science programming in schools,” he said.
Jefferson-Morgan, Orr said, has secured state and local grants and partnered with other local school districts to try to expand those initiatives for their students. This year they’ll have variations of coding courses at every grade level in the elementary school, as well as three computer science courses for grades 9-12, and an engineering course and Shrader’s class at the middle school level.
Orr said every student by the time of seventh and eighth grades will get some type of computer science or coding course, thanks to the addition of Shrader’s class.
“We’re proud of Danielle and proud of the course,” Orr said. “She’s been a great player in our big expansion. It’s another piece of our bigger focus on computer science and engineering for our kids.”