Program teaches students the conduct of code

  • Nick Galev, left, 13, of Lebanon, N.H., Michael Jia, 13, of Hanover, N.H., and Alex Orsino, 12, of Hanover, do numerical simulation coding at ANSYS in Lebanon, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2019 during a CodingEverywhere demonstration. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Maria Munteanu, 13, of Lebanon, N.H., writes numerical simulation coding at ANSYS in Lebanon, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2019 during a CodingEverywhere demonstration. Munteanu and three other middle school students participated in the demonstration. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jay Sanyal a developer at ANSYS in Lebanon, N.H., reacts after four middle school students did a numerical simulation coding demonstration on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2020 4:51:11 PM

Sitting in front of a conference room full of engineers, scientists and teachers at Ansys, Inc., in Lebanon on Friday afternoon, 13-year-old Nick Galev coolly typed a string of numbers and letters on a laptop while 12-year-old Alex Orsino narrated, microphone in hand.

“Now, run it,” Orsino said after Galev had filled half the screen at the front of the room with computer code. Galev clicked some more keys, and an invisible pen drew a square on the screen and, inside it, a red ball.

Then the team shifted positions, and a new round of coding began. In the space of 30 minutes — with no notes to help them — the middle-schoolers got the ball to bounce around inside the box and drop into “water,” where it followed laws of gravity, viscosity and buoyancy, eliciting applause from the audience.

The kind of code the students were writing is called numerical simulation, and though it informs the design of many of the things people use on a daily basis — from cars to pills to swimsuits — only professionals with advanced degrees, as a rule, know how to do it.

Sorin Munteanu is trying to change that. Lead software developer at Ansys, he started CodingEverywhere about a year ago with some of his co-workers and their children. By staging “Stand-Up Coding” events like this one, he hopes to get more young people and educators interested in numerical simulation and perhaps build a network of coding clubs, similar to the robotics clubs that are thriving in many schools.

“These presentations will be a way to demonstrate to other people that numerical simulation is accessible for students that are not even in high school,” Munteanu said in a telephone interview last week. “We are teaching these kids things what other people will learn in grad school. … Our long-term goal is to bring a shift in education.”

Ansys makes software that enables numerical simulation, which engineers use to make virtual prototypes for manufacturing.

“What we are doing is making the tools to help engineers make other future things that do not yet exist,” Munteanu said. “For our world economy, it’s a very important sector.”

The vast majority of manufacturers use some form of numerical simulation, but relatively few people — namely, people with doctorates in aerospace engineering — know how to do it. Ansys, one of the leading companies in the industry, recruits employees from all over the world, said Munteanu, who came to the United States from Romania to earn his doctorate and began working at Fluent, in Lebanon, in 2006, before it was bought by Ansys.

The reason for the shortage is simple, he said. In the past, personal computers weren’t affordable. Few middle-schoolers had their own laptops; thus, it didn’t make a lot of sense to teach them coding. Though schools now embrace technology, their curriculum doesn’t always make full use of available tools, Munteanu said.

Cognitively, however, pre-teens are up to the task. “You learn the little bit of math that you need, the little bit of physics that you need, the little bit of computer that you need, and you put everything together,” Munteanu said.

The CodingEverywhere group gave its first “stand-up coding” event for Hypertherm employees last year. The group meets every Saturday morning, alternating between the Ansys facility and the Montshire Museum.

At the Montshire, they’re studying a popular exhibit called “Trajectories,” in which visitors set the angle and force of a ball launcher in an effort to shoot a ball into a basket, and writing code that approximates how it works.

“We’re excited to find ways for middle-schoolers to engage with some of the exhibits, especially the exhibits they’ve known since they were kids,” said Sherlock Terry, the museum’s director of exhibits.

The museum promotes STEM learning in a variety of ways, and supporting CodingEverywhere is another way to do that, Terry said. He hopes to schedule an event in which the students can present their work to the public in the coming months.

That work can be challenging at times, said Munteanu’s daughter, Maria, a seventh-grader at Lebanon Middle School and one of four members of the CodingEverywhere club. “You have to put these parentheses in the code, and if you forget to put them, you probably will get an error,” she said.

In spite of the pressure, Maria, 13, and her peers were unfazed when strings of code went awry during their presentation. They knew how to fix them.

Sabrina Kirwan, a math teacher at Lebanon Middle School, was one of a few teachers who attended Friday’s event. Kids dabble in coding at the school, she said, but there’s potential for them to do more.

“What I would really like to see at Lebanon Middle School is … to have coding integrated into all the academics,” she said. “I’d like to see an interdisciplinary approach.”

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.




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