The brains behind computers: Family code night at Norris School in Southampton

  • Trenton Bush, 9, reacts to finishing an exercise as his father, Nathan Bush, looks on during a class in writing computer code, May 2, at Norris School in Southampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Gabriel Carrasquillo, 6, high fives his father, Matthew Carrasquillo, during a class in writing computer code, May 2, at Norris School in Southampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dale Kasal, left, helps Katie McDonald, 8, during the computer code class, at Norris School. Kasal is retired in her field as a technical specialist and volunteered to teach the class. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jen McDonald, right, helps her daughter, Emma, 5, during a class in writing computer code at Norris School in Southampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 5/16/2017 9:58:27 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — Like most youth of her generation, Rylie Simmons, 8, is adept at using today’s technology to watch gymnastics on YouTube or to research do-it-yourself projects like how to make such as how to make slim foam.

But, like many youngsters — and adults — Rylie, her sister Katherine, 10, and the students at William E. Norris School in Southampton couldn’t begin to explain how the applications that power the computers, tablets, video game consoles and smartphones actually work.

So on a recent school night earlier this month, the sisters ventured to their school with their mom, Laurie, for a workshop on how to create computer code.

“I wanted them to learn more about computers,” said Laurie Simmons, figuring the introduction would be beneficial.

About a dozen families attended the May 2 family code night hosted by Hampshire Regional School District, where they learned the basics of coding — or instructing a computer program — and completed coding puzzles from

“Understanding the technology that is underneath our screens and in our phones… having some sense of that is really important,” said Kevin Hodgson, a sixth-grade teacher at Norris.

Hodgson said the code night is a way to energize and attract young students to think about computer science — not only as a career, but to gain a knowledge in how things work.

Family Code Night is part of the Computer Science for All initiative by the Obama administration.

“All across the country, people are doing code,” Obama said at an “Hour of Code” event. “And part of what we are realizing is that we’re starting too late when it comes to not only how to play a video game, but how to create a video game. Not just how to work a smart phone, but how to create the apps for the smart phone.”

A degree in computer science can led to careers such as software developers, computer programmers and hardware engineers with salaries ranging from $70,000 to more than $100,000 a year.

Throughout the month, Hampshire Regional School District is hosting several family code nights including last Monday at R.H. Conwell School in Worthington, May 23 at New Hingham Regional Elementary School in Chesterfield and May 31 at Anne T. Dunphy School in Williamsburg.

The program at Norris School earlier this month incorporated characters from the game “Angry Birds.” Families were asked to instruct the bird through the maze to get to the evil pig.

Using blocks that say “move forward,” “turn left” and “turn right,” families put the blocks in a sequence to instruct the bird through the maze. Fewer blocks were used to make the code more efficient, such as instructing the bird to move five spaces instead of placing five “move forward” blocks on the sequence.

Parents and students collaborated — one person controlled the mouse while the other read the instructions.

Fourth-grader Katherine Simmons said she has learned some coding while in Girl Scouts. She said she loves math and science, and the fact that coding takes critical thinking and problem-solving.

“It’s really fun,” Katherine said about the coding puzzles.

Learning code also means having the up-to-date resources, something Norris School has been able to do this year.

The school has bought new MacBook Air laptops for students to use thanks to an $80,000 appropriation approved by Southampton voters this spring. Not only will students use the laptops to take the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing digitally, but they’re also using them for other classroom work.

And last year, the school received about $50,000 from the Digital Connections Partnership Schools grant allowing the school to upgrade its wireless infrastructure.

Without the laptops and sufficent access to the internet, technology director Kim Florek said the school would not have been able to host family code night.

To do the Angry Birds coding puzzles, go to

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at

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