Hour of Code: worldwide computer event 2013.12.18

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

code.1By DAVID GREEN

The Hour of Code arrived Thursday morning for Morenci's first-hour chemistry class. By the end of last week—Computer Science Education Week—Morenci's three dozen students joined more than 15 million worldwide in sampling the process of writing computer code.

The founders of code.org, with the support of luminaries ranging from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg to Barack Obama, put out a challenge for 10 million students to learn a little about coding. The demand for computer coders exceeds the availability of trained workers and organizers of the event hoped to hook some students into a future career.

When Morenci teacher Loretta Cox read a staff-wide e-mail about the Hour of Code, she decided it was perfect for her first-hour class. Her second-hour section already had something special lined up for Thursday morning, so moving away from the regular curriculum for the coding experience would keep the two classes on track.

Her students took over the middle school computer lab and brought up the code.org website.

"If you've never done any coding before, I suggest you start here," Ms. Cox said about the basic, introductory tutorial called 

"Write Your First Computer Program."

The lesson included short talks by Zuckerberg, Gates and others, and taught students about drag and drop programming with complete-loops, conditionals and basic algorithms.

"If you're feeling a little more adventuresome, there's a program called 'Create a Holiday Card,'" she said. "It's really easy at the beginning; then you have to start thinking."

Two students in the class—Hunter Nino and Aaron Elarton—had some prior coding experience and Nino logged into the tutorial for building games.

"He was our resident genius," Ms. Cox said. "He worked on other tutorials."

Cassandra Davis also jumped beyond the introductory level and gave the interactive holiday card project a try. She had some frustrations, but finally got control of her snowman.

"I got him to talk!" she announced.

Her teacher was impressed.

"She took it further than I did," Ms. Cox said. "And she did better than I did."

Pres. Obama recorded a video to urge kids along, pointing out that someone, somewhere created the code that powers their daily electronic life.

“Don’t just buy a new video game—make one,” Obama said. “Don’t just download the latest app—help design it. Don’t just play on your phone—program. No one’s born a computer scientist, but with a little hard work—and some math and science—just about anyone can become one.”

Ms. Cox doesn't know if the session created a future programmer, but she was impressed with how it went.

"I thought it was a success," she said. "They were very into it. I could tell that they were actually enjoying that activity. To see them engaged for an entire hour, I consider it a win."

Attentiveness, problem-solving, enduring, actively trying to achieve a goal—that's what a science teacher loves to see.

Middle school teacher Dan Hoffman had a similar experience with his sixth graders. When the entire classroom of computers was operating trouble-free, Mr. Hoffman saw good things happening.

"The kids felt like they were playing games," he said, but they were actually learning to program. "The goal is to get kids interested," he said, and maybe some of them will enroll in classes at the TECH Center.

Mr. Hoffman is Morenci's coordinator for the Project Lead the Way science program and part of that focuses on computer work, including the robotics segment for ninth grade students.

Ms. Cox would like to see some students take it a step further, too, and she thinks Hour of Code sparked some interest. Coleton Barkway told his teacher he might be up for additional work, and she got an e-mail from Davis that evening asking for the website address.

"You know it was a success if you sparked some interest like that," she said.

• Visit code.org to give programming a try. There's even a segment on "Robot Vocabulary" that can be used later when a computer isn't available. Print the directions and move paper cups around a table.

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