Dozens of local schools joined a nationwide campaign to teach students the fundamentals of computer programming as part of an "Hour of Code," designed to spark interest in the fast-growing field while encouraging creative thinking and problem-solving.
"The kids really loved it," said Norma Carbone, a teacher in the Malverne school district who helped coordinate the event there for fifth- and sixth-graders. "I've seen fireworks go off over students' heads, not lightbulbs."
More than 20 million students nationwide participated in the inaugural program, coordinated by the nonprofit Code.org and held in conjunction with Computer Science Education Week on Dec. 9-15.
In Bay Shore, Gardiner Manor Elementary School's fourth- and fifth-graders were introduced to Scratch, an online program that can create fast and simple coding projects. Meanwhile, Lindenhurst high school students used Scratch to create interactive greeting cards.
In Seaford, a dozen students from the high school's computer club taught a group of 20 middle schoolers using Alice, a programming language that uses a drag-and-drop format.
"I knew it was an easy program, but I'm impressed they were able to learn it so fast and with little guidance," Seaford junior Dominic Scicutella said.
Amityville Memorial High School students formed special bonds with each other through a recent Awareness Weekend in which they camped out at the school for two days, supervised by their parents and teachers.
Activities included motivational speeches, role-playing skits and a performance by Brittany Maier of South Carolina, a blind, autistic pianist who is able to perform many songs after hearing them just once. Meals were provided by the Amityville Parent-Teacher Coalition.
"Many lives were changed for the better," said Jason McGowan, the event's coordinator.
James Wilson Young Middle School brought history to life through a mock "wax museum," with 45 eighth-graders embodying an individual of their choice from French history.
The characters, ranging from fashion designer Coco Chanel to singer Édith Piaf, recited monologues about their historical impact when visitors tapped their "activation buttons," school officials said.
"I find that public speaking is an essential tool as students move forward in their educational careers and beyond," said Gilles Desrochers, the school's French teacher. "This helps to begin that process."
Students in John F. Kennedy Intermediate School's Fun Club are getting a dose of adulthood through a simulated apartment set up at the district's former Washington School.
Household-geared activities, which include folding laundry and sorting silverware, are intended to help children learn and use vital life skills.
"We practice these skills in real-life scenarios at the apartment and then work on them further during mini-trips in the community," special education teacher Marie Tortorici said.
In other news, the school's life skills program recently opened a mock "store," containing clothing and food, in an effort to help students practice smart use of money and budgeting skills.
Clean Tech Competition
The Center for Science Teaching & Learning in Rockville Centre is accepting entries for its 2014 Clean Tech Competition, a new research and design contest.
The competition's theme, "A Solution for Pollution," challenges students ages 15-18 to propose a solution to a local or global pollution problem using clean technology.
Teams of up to three must submit a paper by March 7. Finalists will be announced April 14 and will be asked to make a presentation at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage on May 30.
The first-place team will receive a grand prize of $15,000.
"This competition is a wonderful opportunity for students to get greater understanding of what it is like to work in a STEM field," said William Wahlig, executive director of the Long Island Forum for Technology, which will host the finals.
To register or for more information, call 516-764-0045 or visit cleantechcompetition.org.