East End schools partner to offer online coding program called kidOYO

“If it turns 10 times and has to get to 360 degrees, how many degrees is each turn?” Theresa Zuhoski asked a group of sixth-graders at Cutchogue East Elementary School last Tuesday morning. 

“36,” they responded, after which Ms. Zuhoski instructed a group of students to create an object fitting those dimensions in kidOYO, the coding program currently being piloted on the East End.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold and Greenport school districts have partnered with the Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays, Quogue, East Quogue and Eastport South Manor districts to offer the online coding course to students this year. This is the first consortium of its kind. Run in partnership with Stony Brook University, the course teaches computer science, engineering and entrepreneurship to students in grades K-12.

Mattituck-Cutchogue students in fourth through eighth grades work with kidOYO once a week. Additionally, some high school students use the program in independent learning, technology director Gerri Doherty said.

During classroom instruction, the teacher projects images from her computer onto a large screen so students, each working on their own laptop or desktop, can follow along. Each class has an online classroom, where the teacher can view each student’s work. The setup also allows students to work on projects from home.

“It takes a lot of math, like multiplication, to figure out degrees and angles,” said Owen Orlowski, a sixth-grader at Cutchogue East. “But it’s fun and really cool.”

In Southold, one class each at the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade levels began using the program this winter. In Greenport, the program is used by fifth-graders and taught daily to high schoolers enrolled in a coding elective, according to Ryan Case, the districts’ shared director of technology.

“We want to be as well-rounded as possible,” Mr. Case said. “We’re giving them an opportunity that could spark something in them that they could grow into. Every career at this point involves coding at some level, so this is a skill they could use in the future.”

Melora Loffreto and her husband, Devon, developed the kidOYO software, which is currently used by 30 schools across Long Island, from Greenport to Garden City. She said it’s beneficial for students to be exposed to coding at a young age.
Similar to learning a new language or a musical instrument, the younger someone is when they approach coding, the easier it is for them to pick it up, she said.

Ms. Loffreto, who teaches computer science at Stony Brook University, said kidOYO began as extracurricular enrichment classes held at the college for elementary through high school students, and eventually expanded into a program that could be run in the schools themselves. Teachers in local districts, most of them from math and technology backgrounds, received training in kidOYO over the summer.

Mattituck-Cutchogue math teacher Theresa Zuhoski explains to sixth-graders how to create different shapes using code. Credit: Nicole Smith

The kidOYO program offers numerous learning opportunities for both students and teachers. Various coding languages, such as Hatch and Python, are taught using the online classroom. Students can even move on to develop their own websites.

In Ms. Zuhoski’s class, students were using Hatch, the beginner program, to create their own online games. Juniors and seniors in Ozlem Artukmac’s class at Greenport High School were creating a whack-a-mole game last Monday. Before the holiday break, Greenport students also created their own online version of the popular Elf on a Shelf.

“I like how creative it is,” junior Meko Bell said of the program.

Ms. Artukmac said one of the benefits of kidOYO is the individualization. Students are able to progress at their own pace through the challenges and even have the opportunity to work at home.

Students earn a badge for each correctly completed challenge, which has motivated them to move ahead.

The East End districts were able to introduce the program this year thanks to a $40,000 grant secured by state Sen. Ken LaValle. Enrollment of 1,250 students is required for a district to participate in kidOYO, Ms. Lofftreto said.

Because their smaller sizes made it impossible for East End districts to enroll individually, Ms. Doherty spearheaded the establishment of a consortium so students across numerous districts could benefit from kidOYO.

“It’s a brave step for the schools,” Ms. Loffreto said. “The administration had to make the decision despite some of the fear and trepidation teachers may have had [about] teaching the subject. That’s really challenging, but they pushed forward anyway and have worked with it one step at a time.”

Educators in all North Fork districts said the coding program has exceeded their expectations and they hope to continue offering in years to come.

“The coolest part of this for me has been watching the students come across a roadblock but work through it,” Ms. Zuhoski said. “The pride after they complete it is so rewarding on my end.”

Photo caption: Greenport High School juniors David Jenkins (left) and Meko Bell work on creating a Whack-A-Mole game using kidOYO. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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