YHMA Students Learn the Language of Code

Three students in Butitta's class practice their coding in order to learn more about their interests in video games, animation, and other online activities.Many classrooms in the Johnston Community School District have participated in the nationwide “Hour of Code” movement for years. This year, a classroom at the Youth Homes of Mid-America (YHMA) also participated, creating a new learning opportunity for 10 young men.

“Our students are often transient and may not complete a full semester or year here at the Y-Home,” said Dave Butitta, a language arts teacher at YHMA. “Coding is a skill that a student can take with them wherever they go. It’s something where they can work at their own pace and all the while, they are learning skills for a possible career.”

Gaige, a tenth grade student at YHMA, said he is interested in a career in movie animation. During the coding class, he watches Khan Academy tutorials and practices different animation techniques. The format of learning through a video tutorial and being able to work on the skill in real-time is essential for him to master new concepts.

“I just started learning animation,” Gaige said. “There is a lot I don’t understand, but I’m getting there and each time I’m able to successfully complete a tutorial, I feel really good about it. The video is a great way to learn and practice; it wouldn’t be the same if you had to read the instructions in a book and try to do it. I want to use animation skills to make movies and apps that will help people.”

Many of the students in Butitta’s class enjoy playing video games in their spare time. Butitta and YHMA Assistant Principal Kim Antisdel see that as a way to spur students’ interest in coding and animation.

“Dave’s efforts to teach coding are three-fold,” Antisdel said. “It’s an employability skill, students feel empowered through their success with the programs, and it is entirely student-directed learning. We see the students work very hard to meet goals and complete challenges within the coding programs, and that’s exciting.”

Matt, a YHMA ninth grader, uses a game called Code Combat to write and execute codes in order to move through challenges and different levels of increasing difficulty.

“I really like video games and it’s fun to see how a video game actually works [through coding],” Matt said. “It’s interactive and we haven’t had the chance to do coding before now.”

What’s more, Butitta said, students become peer mentors to one another – something that doesn’t often happen in other classes.

“I encourage them to share their learning with others,” Butitta said. “They can help each other figure out the challenges and that leads to increased communication, personal connections, and self-pride. Coding goes far beyond the computer for these kids.”