Kennedy Coding Club helps students explore computer science

Cori HilsgenNews, St. JosephLeave a Comment

by Cori Hilsgen

Sixteen Kennedy Community School students recently participated in an after-school computer science coding club.

The club was named the Coding Club and students learned about coding and much more.

This is the first year the club has been available to students. Holly Nelson, librarian/media specialist at the school, and Peter Ohmann, assistant professor of computer science at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, voluntarily directed the club which was available free to all students.

Nelson teaches computer coding for kindergarten through fifth-graders at the school in the fall. This usually ends with an “Hour of Code” sponsored by

She attended a two-day seminar last summer conducted by the Apple Company. While there, she learned about the company’s computer coding software program, Swift Playground, which is designed for students.

Programs used

The Swift Playground program was used during the Coding Club and the integration of the Lego Mindstorm EV3 robot. Robots for the club were provided by the Colleges’ computer science department.

The Lego Mindstorm’s EV3 helped the students build, program and command Lego robots smarter and faster. Students were able to be in control of robots that drive, shoot, slither, walk, slam and spin.

By using the EV3 Programmer Application they were able to bring the robot to life with a tablet.  This allowed students to steer the robots and play challenging games with friends.

Kennedy, CSB/SJU collaboration

Nelson and Ohmann decided to collaborate for this program because they felt it provides an excellent after-school option for students who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Also, because computing is not a historically diverse field, they felt they could help change this.

At the university level, the national percentage of women who graduate with a computer science degree is about 10 percent, and ethnic minority groups make up about 5 percent of all computer-science graduates.

They said part of the goal of the program is to offer Kennedy students from various backgrounds a chance to gain exposure to computing and science, technology, engineering and math topics. They felt it was especially important for them to introduce computing to students who might not have otherwise thought it was “for them.”

Nelson said the students are developing computational thinking skills that will benefit them no matter what they choose for their career.

“Developing a program for a computer is not so different than a chef developing a new recipe,” she said. “Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer, human or machine, can effectively carry out.”

Ohmann said the program is an opportunity for College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University students to develop a culture of volunteering and giving back to their area, as well as important skills in communicating and teaching others about their computing knowledge. Explaining solutions to others is often more difficult than solving the problem in the first place.

Nelson submitted an application for the Spring 2019 Local Education and Activities Foundation grants made available to St. Cloud school district teachers to purchase a robot that was used with this program and received a $500 grant. A robot has been ordered for students to use in the Makerspace, which is a creative space at Kennedy for students to explore many activities.

Student experiences

Some of the Coding Club participants commented on their experience.

“I am so sad this is our last day of coding club,” said fifth-grader Spencer Olson. “I’ve had so much fun.”

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Nelson, for volunteering and doing this for us,” said fifth-grader Donovan Figalto. “I really liked it.”

Volunteer College of St. Benedict students My Nguyen and Mengzhen Li, who are both studying computer science, commented about their experience with the program.

Nguyen said her favorite part of the collaborated program was to interact with the kids and help them explore their interest in computer science.

“It’s satisfying both for the kids and me to go out of our comfort zone and try new things, such as how to write a line of code or how to work with a partner to complete a program,” she said.

Nguyen said working with the students was the greatest benefit she got from helping with the club.

“When I work with the kids, I learn more about myself and the kids I’m working with,” she said. “I get a chance to share my passion for computer science with the kids. The students also learn a lot in this club including teamwork skills, and problem-solving skills. I think the program went very well this semester and it should continue on.”

Li said her favorite part of the program is the sense of achievement.

“We truly feel these kids’ excitement when they do the robotic program and their happiness after they succeed,” she said. “As a volunteer, this is what I want to see. It is really nice to see all of them make their own progress. I also found some students are really talented in coding and I was impressed by their talent.”

Li said she became more familiar with robots through the program.  

“You have to know how to do the EV3 program first, and then you have the ability to teach them,” she said. “The students in the club can have a basic understanding of coding and find their interests in it. It is a good experience for them.”

Kennedy students who participated in the program included Hamda Ahmed, Carlie Braegelmann, Xavier Brophy, Finnian Brown Conway, Figalto, Lily Haffner, Evie Houston, Lane McIntyre, Tara Moore, Olson, Joseph Rassier, Mikeal Rogalski, Carter Rosty, Paityn Rutz, Aaron Spiczka and Lucas Waldusky.

College of St. Benedict computer science students who volunteered for the collaborated program included Li, Nguyen and Karen Phillips.

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Kennedy Community School fifth-graders (left to right) Hamda Ahmed and Lily Haffner participate in the school’s first computer science after-school Coding Club.

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Kennedy fifth-graders (left to right) Donovan Figalto and Spencer Olson participate in an after-school Coding Club at Kennedy Community School.

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Lucas Waldusky participates in a computer science Coding Club at Kennedy Community School.

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Aaron Spiczka participates in an after-school Coding Club at Kennedy Community School.

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Kennedy Community School fifth-graders (left to right) Tara Moore and Evie Houston participate in Coding Club.

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Kennedy Community School students (left to right) Tara Moore and Paityn Rutz participate in Coding Club at Kennedy Community School.


Author: Cori Hilsgen

Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people’s stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.

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