Computer coding unplugged at OES



Oneonta Elementary School principal Leslie Russell had a vision of students getting more out of computer lab. She visualized every student having the opportunity to learn computer science in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Russell put the wheels in motion and soon had the opportunity to make her vision a reality with, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding computer science in public schools.

The curriculum allows students to work together to enhance problem solving skills, practice persistence, how to stay safe online and how to identify bullies and unsafe websites.

Russell was determined to find the right person to carry out the program. She knew it would have to be someone self-motivated and dedicated to such a program. She found that person in Sandy McElvey.



Russell and McElvey were trained through a program promoted by Dr. Jeff Gray at The University of Alabama (UA).

Through their training, they learned that: 1 million programming jobs will go unfilled from 2011–2020; IT jobs will grow 22 percent by 2020; technology affects every field as computers are just a small portion of computer science; and females and underserved populations is the smallest percentage of students choosing technological jobs. In 2016, UA had a 91 percent job placement for computer science majors with an average starting salary of $71,286.

Russell and McElvey implemented the first computer science program in a lab setting for elementary students in the county.

Each K – 5th grade OES student spends 30 minutes per week in computer science class. They move at their own pace as they try to code puzzles. They are allowed to start each puzzle over as needed, and they can use the step-by-step feature.

McElvey said, “Students use a lot of different strategies to solve the problems. They are able to look at what did not work and find out what needs to be changed to solve the problem. It’s pretty neat to see kindergarteners learning about algorithms.”

And yes, this reporter had to look up the definition of algorithm. It is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

Russell said, “The reason be brought this program about is to help prepare our students for the future. Technology is ever changing.”

The students utilize math, science technology engineering, problem solving and critical thinking skills in the curriculum.

McElvey said that parents have told her how excited the students are about going to the computer science lab and they do not want to miss school on their coding day.

Russell and McElvey are very appreciative of this opportunity that has been made available for the students. They both acknowledged how fortunate OES is to have great support from the city of Oneonta, the Oneonta Foundation for Educational Resources (OFFER), and the community. McElvey said, “It’s a group effort. None of this could have taken place with the support of so many.”

Russell said, “We appreciate being included in the city’s budget, both directly and indirectly. With this support, we are able to implement more technology for our students.”