Building blocks — both the digital and physical variety — were on display at Cerritos Computer Science Immersion Magnet School Thursday as students from transitional kindergarten through sixth grade exhibited their coding prowess, and teachers demonstrated their mastery of a subject alien to many only two years earlier.
During an event called Code to the Future Epic Showcase, the school embarked on its first full year as a computer-science magnet — a designation that started last August — after some training the year before.
Principal Perla Chavez-Fritz was eager to highlight her school's progress.
"[It's] a great way to see the growth and the scope of the skills from one student to another," she said.
In Melissa Keshishian's kindergarten class, 6-year-old Elias Moreno demonstrated a coding assignment he began by utilizing a programming language called Scratch.
"It was fun, and it was tough," said Moreno, whose animated work consisted of his name in bright lights flipping and bouncing.
Keshishian's students used not only computers during their lessons, but also Lego block-building and a cityscape mock-up in the middle of the classroom.
"When they were doing the Scratch projects, they were using the blocks to code," Keshishian said. "They're using a hands-on way of envisioning the blocking that they need to continue coding."
Keshishian was one of several teachers concerned about coding when Cerritos first transitioned to a computer-science magnet curriculum.
Through Glendale Unified's partnership with Code to the Future, an organization dedicated to helping schools offer computer-science immersion programs, Cerritos educators have been receiving weekly lessons.
"The coding coaches have been coming in once a week for two years now," Keshishian said. "Our goal is to start to wean ourselves off them by next year, and I do feel more comfortable than I used to."
Ellee Alaan, 8, couldn't wait to show off her dancing pony animation in the school's computer lab.
"I like using Scratch, and it's easy," said Alaan, a student in Chelsie Hunt's split first- and second-grade class.
Katherine Altamira, 8, and Clive Vivero, 9, third-graders in Christine Ramirez's class, took show and tell to another level.
Using a Lego Education WeDo 2.0 Core set, which includes Lego bricks, software and a sensor, the duo created a small flower protected by a floating bee, whose purpose was to fly around and, by simply pushing a button connected via Bluetooth, attack anything that moved near the flower.
"We're protecting against dragonflies," Altamira said. "It was a lot of fun."
When asked if the project was difficult, Vivero chuckled and said, "I can teach you to do it."
That ease of use is what amazed teacher Lisa Jensen.
"It is absolutely amazing what we can do with Legos now," Jensen said. "Connecting it to the computer and coding, with the computer and the Legos together, is phenomenal."
Jensen, who has been at Cerritos for over 20 years, said teachers "were all anxious" before coding training began two years ago. Attitudes, however, have changed.
"This year, we're excited because we know what we're doing, and we see what is happening… We feel that much more confident with the whole Code to the Future," Jensen said.