Cecilia Seiter / Mustang News

Local elementary school students spent eight hours in a Robert E. Kennedy Library computer lab on Friday, but they weren’t playing computer games — they were designing them.

Coding for Kids is a new program hosted by Cal Poly Extended Education and directed by Erik Dungan, a computer science senior and software engineer. Using a visually-based curriculum designed at MIT and distributed by Google, Dungan teaches elementary schoolers the basics of computer science, allowing them to create things like applications and social media quizzes.

“We start with super simple stuff, like variables and events and conditions and stuff like that,” Dungan said. “It’s all visual, so they basically drag and drop code blocks into this programming environment.”

Dungan launched the first Coding for Kids workshop at Cal Poly on Nov. 4. The class sold out, and Dungan said he had parents from as far away as Fresno emailing him to ask if their child could still join. His second class, held on Friday, sold out within a few days.

His students’ enthusiasm for coding was clear in both classes. Some students even had prior coding experience, like Delaney Sherwood, a fifth-grader from Ralph Dunlap Elementary School in Santa Maria. Dungan said there’s a national push for an increase in early STEM education, which has led to the creation of more elementary school programs devoted to computer science.

“There’s an initiative to try to get all students and teachers to learn a little bit of coding,” Dungan said. “My kids’ school also does a thing called STEM week. They change the whole schedule for a week and get them doing everything from robotics to chemistry to computer programming.”

Overall, Dungan said it’s important for kids to learn computer science because every company, regardless of whether it’s a restaurant chain or a tech startup, is rooted in technology.

He also noted the importance of diversifying the STEM industry.

“Having worked in the technology world for over a decade … getting girls more into STEM stuff has always been a thing for me,” Dungan said. “We need to get more women and people of color into the pipeline of learning STEM.”

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