Hour of Code Expands Students’ Horizons
Picture this: 200 high school students in a computer lab furiously typing on their keyboards with big smiles on their faces.
What are they doing? They’re not on social media or chatting with each other, but instead writing code that may one day lead to a career in computer science.
The event that makes it all possible is the Hour of Code, an international effort designed to pique student interest in computer programming (coding) at all levels.
The Oak Park Unified School District in Ventura County and the Hart Union School District in Santa Clarita were among more than 160,000 Hour of Code participants in December as part of a partnership with “Doing What Matters” Developing California’s Technology Workforce for the 21st century.
A global movement
The Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week, which is held annually in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper on Dec. 9, 1906.
It is designed to be completed simultaneously around the world. Instructions and all other necessary materials are available at code.org. Organizers say that anyone from age 4 to 104 can participate.
“While all of us know that it’s important for students to learn how to navigate today’s tech-saturated world, many teachers aren’t experienced in computer science and don’t know where to start,” said Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of Code.org, on the organization’s website. “This event is a chance for all of us to see what computer science is about.”
Activities are available in 45 languages and more than 100 million students have participated since the event launched in 2013. Former President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin, Trudeau, tennis star Serena Williams, and actress/entrepreneur Jessica Alba are just a few of the big names who have promoted the event.
More than 10,000 students from throughout the Hart District participated in Hour of Code, doing coding activities in non-computer science classes.
Jerry Ostrove, a computer science teacher at Valencia High School, said the program was well received by a wide variety of students across the district.
“All populations of students were involved, including all races, genders, socioeconomic levels, and academic profiles,” Ostrove said.
At Oak Park, computer science teacher Erik Amerikaner said the event is the perfect introduction to coding for students who have never tried it before.
“It’s enough activity to get them interested and see that it’s really not that daunting,” Amerikaner said. “Really anyone can code and this builds up their interest to a point where they say ‘I can do this.’’
Elementary students start with simple drag and drop exercises. Middle school students move up to simple programming languages, and high school students tackle more complex areas like Java-based programming. Each participant receives a certificate, which Amerikaner said students love to display or take home for their parents to see.
The activities provided by code.org change each year, which keeps students engaged year to year. Although the most recent event was held in December, he already has students asking when they will be able to do it again.
“The activities are getting better and more comprehensive every year,” Amerikaner said. “They are more engaging at every level.”
At the Hart District, Hour of Code events were downloaded onto flash drives and distributed among participating schools. Ostrove said teachers appreciated having everything they needed in one place.
All of this was possible for less than $500 at most schools, according to data Ostrove compiled. The total investment for 10,000 students was just $4,000.
The Hour of Code events at Hart and Oak Park were spearheaded by Paula Hodge, Deputy Sector Navigator for the Information and Communication Technologies and Digital Media hosted at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.
In addition to hands-on learning, Hour of Code provides a teaching opportunity for older students, Hodge said. High school AP Computer Science students taught elementary and middle school students, which was a win-win for both groups.
“The older students were engaged in learning themselves and showing what they know to the younger students and their peers at the high school level,” Hodge said.
Building tomorrow’s workforce
Coding is required in nearly every aspect of today’s economy. Even sectors like manufacturing and constructions have websites, business processes, and other key functions that rely on programming to make them function.
The goal of events like Hour of Code is to show students that coding is a skill they can learn, but one that they should learn and consider turning into a career path.
“Students understand how coding and software affects technology in every sector ... construction, education, business, law, medicine,” Amerikaner said. “Someone knowing what coding is gives them more knowledge and awareness of how the 21st century is embedded in every business.”
The students who are most interested coding can take an introductory programming class with Amerikaner then progress on to classes like AP Computer Science, which can count for college credit if a student scores well enough on a year-end exam.
Speaking of college, Hodge said activities like Hour of Code lead to increased interest in computer science and other technology-related majors at the college level. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but any exposure to coding is beneficial.
“Peaking interest into computer science in general has had a positive effect for the college,” Hodge said.
Hodge’s work brought all of these pieces together and lead to a successful event overall.
“Many students began thinking about computer science as a possible career choice,” Ostrove said. “None of this would have been possible without the generous support and resources provided by our Deputy Sector Navigator for ICT/DM, Paula Hodge.”
For more information on the Hour of Code, visit https://hourofcode.com/us.