BROWNSVILLE — Look out Silicon Valley, you might have some competition.
A group of fourth and fifth graders at Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School are getting an early start in the world of computer programming as part of a class teaching the basics of coding, app development, and entrepreneurship.
The class began last school year for some of the students in third and fourth grade and continued this year as the students progressed into fourth and fifth grades. And it’s already giving some students, like fifth-grader Christian Isaiah, 10, a sense of the power that comes with an ability to create things using code.
Christian proved himself a quick study while designing his version of the camera app, and said he sometimes adds flourishes to projects. When the class was designing an app that simulated a bouncy ball, he turned it into a game similar to pong, complete with a background bursting with flames.
“It feels great to be able to make something like this,” he said. “It’s like, Steve Jobs didn’t make this. I made this.”
Each class begins with a free period, in which the children get a chance to play around and get their creative juices flowing, before diving into their work.
On a recent Tuesday, lead teacher Everbell Bishop and her colleague Valerie Ford, both teachers at Brooklyn Landmark, were walking the students through building a picture app for their tablets.
A student raises his hand as lead teacher Everbell Bishop speaks to the class. DNAinfo/Noah Hurowitz
Each step of the process began with the children huddled on a rug at the front of the class as Bishop walked them through each initial building block before sending them back to their laptops to complete the step.
Starting with a simple “take picture” function, the kids were then tasked with designing an icon for the app and coding the icon to open the program, before customizing the layout and appearance of the program.
Some of the kids were eager to show off their mastery of the coding process, shouting instructions to Bishop when they felt she was going too slow, but a quick command of “voices off!” from Ford hushed the class as if she had flipped a switch.
Using a MIT App inventor, which translates coding concepts into drag-and-drop blocks, the students are learning the basic ideas of how to write computer programming, as well as the real-world problem-solving that comes along with it, Bishop said.
The class, dubbed Startup Tech, is the only public-school class of its kind for fourth and fifth graders, Bishop said. It's funded in part through a grant from Verizon, which was secured with the help of the United Federation of Teachers' Community Learning Initiative.
The curriculum is geared toward giving the kids a jumpstart in thinking about their futures, illustrated in class by the in T-shirts worn by students — some handmade, some official — of schools they want to attend, including MIT, University of Notre Dame, Hunter College and Howard University, among others.
As the school year winds down, the young coders are preparing for a grand showcase, at which they will display not only their finished apps but also their newfound entrepreneurial bona fides, and will present the apps as if they were pitching an investor.
Christian and several pals are hard at work on an app he said will reward users for community-service tasks. It will be paired with a map and GPS function, and users will be able to check in at places like a park, and complete tasks such as cleaning up litter in exchange for points, he said. He envisions it as something like a Pokemon GO for neighborhood cleanup.
Christian said he’s been tooling around with web design since before he began the class, diving into the HTML of websites and playing around with the coding in an effort to figure out how things work. He said he hopes to use his coding skills to develop video games, but added the skills he’s building in the class go beyond computers.
“When I’m coding I have to be precise, so that’s helpful when I’m doing math or taking a state test,” he said. “When I’m having trouble I can think back to this and figure out how to solve problems.”
Gabby Billafuerte, 10, said she likes “everything” about the class, particularly gaining new skills as the class progresses.
“I love learning how to use resources like this,” she said. “I don’t always know what’s next, but it’s fun to figure it out.”