The school district is dedicating a week to recognizing the importance of computer coding.

TIMES PHOTO: BLAIR STENVICK - Fowler Middle School sixth-graders Jaida Brandon and Raisina Triplett work on coding lessons in Jo Barendse's classroom.Inside Jo Barendse's computers classroom at Fowler Middle School on Monday, sixth-grader Ethan Sweeney was trying to create the perfect painting. But he wasn't using a canvas and paintbrush — instead, he's using a computer and his coding skills.

"Right here we have to make a pattern of these rainbow lines, and right now I'm trying to figure out how to do it," Sweeney said as he used his mouse to drag and drop different blocks of code — written instruction for computers — into different sequences, trying to create a picture that matched the example in the corner of his screen.

Sweeney was using, which is full of educational exercises for students just learning how to code. This week, the entire Tigard-Tualatin School District is using programs like and software program Scratch as part of Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code, two national initiatives that seek to get more kids coding-literate.

The district's high school and middle school students already have coding built into their curriculum, and elementary students have STEAM classes — science, technology, engineering, art and math — in which coding often is covered. But by designating a special week for coding, K-12 instructional support specialist Lisa Dailey said she hopes to emphasize coding's importance to the district community.

"A big emphasis has been on why coding is important," Dailey said. "Really, no matter what industry you go into, there's an aspect of coding. We tell students, you have the power to change the world, no matter what pathway they choose. And coding is a part of that."

Barendse has been a technology teacher with the district for more than 30 years, and has observed the Hour of Code in her classroom for the last four years.

"I've seen it go from Apple 11e's to now these one-to-one devices with iPads," she said with a laugh.

Barendse chose to start her students on because, "it gave them a taste for many different styles for coding." has 15 lessons, with five to 10 coding exercises in each lesson.

After students master the lessons on, they can move onto Scratch. This program allows students to write their own code, rather than dragging and dropping blocks of pre-written code into the correct sequence, as they do with

As Fowler sixth-grader Alexis Lee tried to find the coding block sequence to make an animated artist start to paint, she pointed out that "you can look at the actual code right here," as she clicked inside of a code box and studied the language inside of it.

Lee said she was glad to be learning how to code because "you can create programs, and there's a lot of jobs that require you to know it."

Her classmate Sweeney shared similar thoughts. Sweeney loves to play video games, and he hopes to be a game designer someday.

"I really like technology, and I always wanted to learn how computers work," he said. "This is what you do when you're making your own video games."

As Barendse surveyed her classroom, she remarked on how engrossed students were in their coding projects.

"Is there anybody off-task?" she asked. "They're 100 percent engaged and trying."

Blair Stenvick
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