Otter learns coding with Boise fifth-graders


Otter coding
Gov. Butch Otter, right, and Superintendent Don Coberly, at left, participate in Hour of Code activities Wednesday at Garfield Elementary. Photos by Andrew Reed / Idaho Ed News.

For one hour Wednesday morning, Gov. Butch Otter was just another student in Sonia Galaviz’s fifth-grade classroom learning to code.

Otter, Boise School District Superintendent Don Coberly and 20 elementary students completed the popular Hour of Code activities offered for free online through

They used drag-and-drop block coding techniques to help Elsa, a character from the Disney movie “Frozen,” trace a series of geometric designs while ice skating.

The lessons incorporated the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math — including coding, calculating angles, computing and basic math concepts.

When Otter got stumped, he raised his hand to ask a question, just like the other students.

“This is awesome,” he said, barely looking up from his computer screen to answer a reporter’s question.

When Otter completed one of the 20 assigned tasks, he celebrated his accomplishment, just like the other students.

Otter with fifth graders
Otter poses with fifth-grade students Wednesday at Garfield Elementary.

“Ta-da!” Otter said, tilting his computer screen to show off his handiwork after successfully writing five lines of code.

“I think I learned something too,” Otter said later. “I learned these kids are a whole lot smarter than I am.”

This was the first time that Galaviz — an acclaimed educator known for going above and beyond for her students and their families — has participated in Hour of Code or taught coding. Her students had already been using Chromebooks and a suite of Google for Education apps to enhance and supplement learning. But Galaviz and Principal Darryl Gerber wanted to take the next step this year, so they partnered with Boise State University’s Computer Science Club to offer Hour of Code and soon hooked up with Coberly and Otter.

“Go big or go home, right?” Galaviz said. “So many of my students want to design video games and work with the different elements in computer science. But they need to be exposed to these things early.”

Several free Hour of Code lessons are offered in addition to the “Frozen” challenges, and students spoke excitedly about testing out the “Star Wars” code assignments at home. Others finished the “Frozen” assignments and moved on to another coding challenge based on the video game Minecraft.

“This is really fun to do,” fifth-grader Micah Martin said. “I like discovering new stuff, so (coding) was really fun for me.”

Riverstone Hour of Code
A classroom full of students at Riverstone International School participate in Hour of Code activities Wednesday.

Classmate Nate Vice agreed.

“It’s kind of like making a video game,” Nate said. “This is the first time I’ve ever done this.”

Fifth-grader Delaney Canning also enjoyed the assignment, and said she loves completing lessons and activities on her Chromebook.

“It’s easier than writing a lot (with a pencil and paper),” Delaney said.

Throughout the week, students all over Idaho will participate in Hour of Code activities. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra also completed the hour-long challenge on her own.

“This is a great opportunity to be introduced to computer science by taking an hour and contributing to the millions of hours that have already been completed by students across the country,” Ybarra said in a news release. “This week opens the door for students regardless of background or location to be introduced to computer science and access to computer science education.”

Ybarra coding cropped
State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra shows of her Hour of Code certificate. Photo courtesy of Idaho State Department of Education.

Galaviz said she is already looking into expanding Hour of Code next year throughout her entire school. She said the lessons were easy to approach, and she would recommend them to other teachers, even if they aren’t experienced in coding.

“I think it’s important that we, as educators, take risks just like we ask our students to do,” Galaviz said. “Just because we might not be familiar with something, like coding, we wouldn’t want to withhold the opportunity for our students to try it. It’s an awesome experience to learn and grow right along with your students.”

Even Otter got into the spirit, issuing a challenge to President Obama while bantering with guests in Galaviz’s classroom.

“I’d like to see if Obama can do it as fast as I can,” Otter said while walking up to accept his certificate for completing the challenge.

Want to learn to code yourself?

Teachers, students and families can visit to access the free Hour of Code lessons available online.


Clark Corbin

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