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More than 40 second- and fifth-grade students at Miller Elementary in Santa Maria channeled their inner Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg for roughly an hour Wednesday, exploring the basics of computer programming and computer science during a special "Hour of Code" lesson prepared by teachers.

Billed as a global movement to introduce millions of students to computer science, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Outland said she has led her class in Hour of Code activities for the past four years. Grouping her older students with Miranda Dominguez's second-graders, students were challenged to develop a program (in this case, an animated dance party) that responds to both timed events and user input.

"I love anything technology," said Outland. "I remember learning to code when I was in grammar school, so when they started Hour of Code I jumped right on."

Outland called the Hour of Code platform — which features specially designed, hour-long lessons in more than 45 languages — digestible for K-12 students and teachers who may not be familiar with the basics of computer programming. Featuring characters from popular children's movies, television and video games, students are taught proper sequencing and introduced to several programming languages including Python, JavaScript and HTML.

Wednesday's lesson taught students how to properly sequence their code, a skill Outland called essential to diagnosing and solving problems. Utilizing modular blocks of predefined lines of code, fifth-grader Makayla Curiel, 10, watched as her partner, second-grade student Daniela Amaya, programmed an animated robot to dab, floss and perform other popular dance moves.

Ivan Zamora, one of Dominguez's second-grade students, giggled as he watched the digital cat he programmed dance along to Mark Ronson's 2014 hit "Uptown Funk." Both Amaya and Zamora, who had never created a computer program before, said the task was fun but challenging.

Inspired by her favorite video game, "Roblox," Curiel said she hopes to continue her computer science education outside of the classroom. "I've seen other games and saw that they were coded," she said. "I want to create a game and use code to do it."

In September, the State Board of Education adopted the state's first-ever computer science standards, providing local districts a guide on how to bring computer science education into the classroom. For now, Outland said she's been able to introduce some computer science concepts through the Next Generation Science Standards' emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga


Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.