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November 05, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Region hopes to break world coding record this Wednesday

Guiness World RecordBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

In a little more than 48 hours, students in about 50 schools in Knox County and neighboring Oak Ridge will attempt to break a world record for learning to code at the same time, and an official from the Guinness Book of World Records will be here to validate the results.

The event is the brainchild of Brandon Bruce, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cirrus Insight, and Caleb Fristoe, Project Manager of CodeTN. They initially planned to schedule it as part of “Innov865 Week,” but delayed because the mid-September date was too close to the beginning of the school year.

“It’s designed to shine a light on what’s happening in the region in technology and education,” Bruce said. “It’s just one effort . . . a focusing event to engage students, parents, teachers and administrators.”

During a 30-minute block starting at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday (November 8), students in classrooms in the participating public and private schools will participate in a video lesson that was developed using Scratch, a free visual programming language developed by the MIT Media Lab.

“Many schools, like the L&N STEM Academy, will have all students involved,” Bruce said. “Other schools will utilize specific classrooms or computer labs.”

The effort involves mostly Knox County Schools, so it makes sense that the initiative is heavily supported by the local school system and its Educational Technology and Information Technology departments.

For those who know the local entrepreneur and Cirrus Insight, the initiative makes sense. He was an administrator at Maryville College, where his wife is still a Professor, before co-founding the company with a college classmate. They also have two young children.

Equally important, however, is Bruce’s commitment to the economic development of the region that he now calls home. It clearly starts with Cirrus Insight, which has grown to about 50 employees and depends on a growing staff of individuals who have excellent coding skills. Those same skills are needed by other locally-based software companies like Cirrus Insight as well as other types of employers that have internal programming staff.

With computing positions accounting for roughly two-thirds of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs available in the country, the East Tennessee region must ensure that its young people have the requisite skills.

“Attempting (to break) the Guinness World Record for the number of students learning how to code at the same time will highlight the everyday great work of our students, parents, teachers and principals,” Bruce says.

The initiative also aligns very well with CodeTN’s priorities.

“Computer Science will provide the blue-collar work of the future, and by starting today, we can equip our students with the necessary skills to compete for those jobs,” Fristoe said. CodeTN is a Great Schools Partnership initiative that organizes coding clubs, camps and competitions at area schools.

“The goal is to get more coding activities offered in local schools,” Bruce says. “We’re excited about it.”

So, what is the world record? It’s slightly more than 1,000 students.

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