St. Vrain schools participate in Computer Science Education Week

Story was originally posted in the Times-Call >>

Two Skyline High juniors brought the hovercraft model they built in a STEM Academy class to Longmont's Alpine Elementary on Monday for a demonstration.

Petra Osborn and Rebecca Rauschmayer set up in a hallway, talking about how they built it from a prototype out of wood, a tarp, duct tape, a leaf blower for power and a fan to steer.

Then they inflated it and showed how it moves forward, noting it was hampered by the hall's carpet but works well on smooth floors.

"We have holes on the bottom for lift," Petra said. "It took a couple of weeks to build."

The hovercraft demonstration was part of Alpine's activities for the national Computer Science Education Week, which includes the Hour of Code created to encourage students to try computer coding.

In St. Vrain Valley, all schools are expected to participate, with each school deciding whichactivities would work best. At Longmont's Flagstaff Academy, middle school students are teaching elementary school students coding and other computer science basics in a week-long event.

In the neighboring Boulder Valley School District, about half the schools are participating, district officials said.

Boulder Valley activities include a family coding night at Boulder's Casey Middle School, and Lafayette's Centaurus High students visiting Ryan Elementary to run a "day of code."

The Boulder Public Library also is offering a full slate of activities this week for both kids and adults. Those include a workshop designed for women who have never coded, an opportunity to drive, code and play with robots, and a youth maker hangout.

The week culminates with "CodeFest," a workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the main Boulder library to create apps, code robots and design stories. Participants then can present their work on stage at 1 p.m.

At Alpine Elementary, STEM coordinator Kristen Brohm created the school's computer science activities four years ago with the help of the media specialist and a parent volunteer.

She added guest speakers, including the Skyline students, this year. Students also spend an hour in the library in a computer science lab, while teachers present a short computer science lesson in their classrooms.

In the lab, students watch a short video introduction on the different areas of computer science and learn about binary digits before choosing from activities that range from creating stop motion videos to using modular robotic Cubelets to making binary bracelets.

There's also an area for hardware exploration where students can check out the innards of laptops, digital cameras and even remote controls.

"They can create an app to play a game, not just play a game," Brohm said. "They're creating instead of being a consumer."

Skyline teacher Amanda Giuliani used the hovercraft demonstration to encourage students to pursue STEM classes in middle and high school. Along with the hovercraft class at Skyline, she said, students can take a class on drones and spend their senior year designing their own project.

"There are tons of cool classes you can take," she said.

Rebecca, one of the Skyline students demonstrating the hovercraft, said she signed up for STEM Academy because she's interested in a career in artificial intelligence.

She said the trickiest part was attaching the leaf blower and fan with bungee cords and a wood box that had to be cut down so it wouldn't block the air flow.

"It's been really fun," she said. "Our hovercraft turned out a lot better than I expected."

Fourth graders Lila Marsolek, left, and Camden Tate ride a hovercraft at Alpine Elementary School in Longmont on Monday. The vehicle, made with oriented strand board, a blue tarp and duct tape, was built by Skyline High School juniors Petra Osborn and Rebecca Rauschmayer for their Advanced Engineering class. To view a video visit (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)