For the last two years, Islip’s schools have been implementing kidOYO, an exciting, robust, Manorville-based platform for coding and computer science that focuses on building students’ real-world skills through projects and games.
“KidOYO is definitely in alignment with our superintendent Dr. Dennis O’Hara’s vision for giving our students the best opportunities to shape their future,” said Dr. Chad Walerstein, Islip’s director of technology, innovation and information systems. “It really provides kids with tremendous opportunities in the areas of coding, computer science, logic and critical thinking. This will undoubtedly have a profound effect on their life trajectories, because regardless of what profession they seek out after high school and college, coding is everywhere. It’s in business, finance, computer science and engineering, and it’s becoming more and more normal for graduates to need to have this kind of knowledge. Even beyond direct knowledge of coding, the tenets that kidOYO promotes really function to enhance systematic thought and problem-solving skills, as well as social skills like communication and collaboration.”
At the earliest levels at Wing Elementary School, students begin with the Color by Code program, an app within kidOYO that teaches them the principles of coding. From basic coding such as directional and multi-step algorithms, they move up to another coding language called Hatch, which is essentially a derivative of the Scratch coding language. A form of block coding, Hatch allows students to literally drag and drop blocks to produce an outcome. The Maze Code game within the platform, which most students go through at the earlier levels, gets progressively more difficult and forces the students to utilize repetition and conditional code such as “If this, then that.” Wing students work with kidOYO for a minimum of once a week for the entire year.
Slightly older students are guided through kidOYO by Islip’s STEAM teachers and technology teacher assistants, Beth Fazio and Robert Going at Commack Road Elementary School and Kenneth Bailey and Fred Stroh at Maud S. Sherwood Elementary School. In the middle school, kidOYO is taught by librarian Kathy Ryder as well as implemented in technology classes. At the high school, kidOYO is utilized in a different, course-specific way. High school classes using the platform include AP computer science, video game design, coding and computer programming with Java.
“The nice thing about the platform is that it takes kids from the most basic thing, like Color by Code, all the way through to all of the coding languages that are used in business today such as Python, which some of the high school students are using,” Dr. Walerstein said. “It’s kind of a one-stop shop, if you will.”
Another important aspect of the kidOYO program is providing a challenge for students with a competitive streak, who can participate in Hackathon coding competitions against other Long Island schools in four divisions: high school, seventh and eighth grades, sixth grade and upper elementary school. Each team can have no more than eight members, and at each level, students are required to meet different specific coding benchmarks.
“The Hackathons get progressively more difficult to the point where, when the students are in high school, they have to know a little bit of everything,” Dr. Walerstein said.
Students receive badges for achieving different levels of competency, which serve as micro-credentials as they advance through the program, and kidOYO teachers are able to accurately assess student progress in coding, assisted by the company itself. Teachers can also pursue professional development through kidOYO, obtaining badges of their own and becoming certified as kidOYO certified educators.
“A teacher doesn’t necessarily have to be a master of coding to utilize it,” Dr. Walerstein said. “Mentors at kidOYO look at every single project. Once a student submits an assignment or project, mentors at kidOYO will offer suggestions, praise their work or even ask them questions. For example, there was a student who submitted something recently in the high school, and one of the mentors at kidOYO actually contacted the teacher and asked it the student used original code, because the mentor was stunned at the level of what the student accomplished.”
The program’s flexibility is one of its greatest strengths.
“So much of this can be self-driven,” Dr. Walerstein said. “Students have access to all of these different apps. If they want to go onto Hatch, all they have to do is open it up and they can go ahead and create and submit projects on their own.”
"I love trying to figure things out when I’m doing the challenges in Hatch,” sixth grader Caden Tarello said.
“Coding definitely reorients the students’ thinking processes,” Ryder said. “They learn how important precision is in their input. Our students love working through the challenges to earn badges and exploring the work of their fellow coders, and I can literally see that students relax and their shoulders come to rest when they know we are going to work in Hatch and kidOYO.”