What I Learned from Hour of Code (x12)

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Image: Melissa Ford
Image: Melissa Ford

Three and a half years ago, when my son was in kindergarten, his teacher connected him with his idol, Steve Jobs. That sparked my son’s computer frenzy. Over time, his excitement brought his twin sister and me toward technology. Since then, we’ve been collecting engineering toys, learning how to program, and we’re now feeling ready to set out and build something simple like a Raspberry Pi. That is how I went from having no computer knowledge to leading 12 classes through one-hour workshops for Hour of Code this month. All due to a simple act between a kindergarten teacher, a student, and a computer company CEO.

Funny how life happens.

Maybe I was the ideal person to lead Hour of Code because I’m still in a stage where I’m learning like a child. I get how difficult it can be to wrap your mind around things such as Boolean logic, or to feel comfortable messing with a line of code. I also care deeply that kids get exposure to computers — namely engineering and programming; not just playing games — at an early age. According to CodeNow.org, the tech sector adds 9,600 jobs each month. “By 2018, it will have added another 1.2 million new jobs, boasting an average salary of $78,000.”

This is your future, kids.

Microsoft’s infographic blows my mind: “80% of jobs in the next decade will require technology skills” or “STEM occupations are growing by 17%, while others are growing at 9.8%.” There’s never a point when it’s “too late” to learn programming — I’m proof of that. But there is an advantage to starting kids early with the idea of future work in a STEM field.

An interesting case in point: the first grade teacher asked her students what they wanted to be before they came down for their workshop. None of the kids wanted a job related to technology. After the workshop, she asked the question again and now 50% of the class wanted to be a programmer. They simply had no clue prior to the workshop what being a programmer entailed. Will all those kids go into STEM professions? Unlikely. But at least one or two had a seed planted last week.

Here are some things I learned by leading all of the workshops. For the record, our kindergarteners and first graders built a Lego robot with the WeDo system and then programmed it. Our second through fifth graders built and experimented with a circuit through littleBits to understand why order matters before they headed off to a computer to build a short program on Scratch.

The Second Grade/Third Grade Divide

Poor second grade — too old for a slow-moving group project with the Lego WeDo (unfortunately, we only had one WeDo to share as a class) but probably a bit too young to be working on a Scratch project on their own. While there were kids here and there who immediately grasped the directions and excelled in the workshop, the vast majority needed more hands-on help to get their program up and running. Next year, I’ll do a transitional workshop with second grade; perhaps having them collectively build and program something with littleBits. Or work on a Scratch project in small groups. Or get some fifth graders to serve as helpers. They were the only grade that ran out of time due to the frequent pauses, and I felt terrible that they didn’t get to finish.

Buttons, Buttons, Give Us More Buttons

Make workshops veeeeeeeery hands-on. No one likes just sitting and watching someone else play. Being involved builds excitement.

Parents Need to be Involved

A lot of parents say they want their children expose to STEM education, but if that is what parents want, they need to make it happen. They can’t wait for others to provide that education; they need to get down on the floor and play with the engineering toy they just purchased for their child. They need to sign them up for classes and then take the time to visit those classes and watch their child in action. They need to be walking with their kid step-by-step in nurturing their interest. They can’t wait for someone else to become the leader: they need to be the leader. Luckily, there can be more than one leader in your child’s life, and all can work together to provide those opportunities.

Don’t Wait

I think there’s a tendency for parents to say, “well, Hour of Code is over. I guess we’ll just hang out until the Science Fair or wait until next year to explore computers again.” Your kids are excited now. There are dozens of activity ideas on Hour of Code to keep kids interested in STEM through the whole year.

Each day, when I returned to the school like the Pied Piper of Circuits to lead another round of workshops, more and more kids started gathering at the computer lab door. I think that’s a sign of how interested kids are to keep exploring STEM fields. I had a fifth grader who told me at the beginning of the workshop that she didn’t really like computers who informed me later that she’s now thinking about studying computer science. I think that’s an hour well spent. After all, there are going to be 1.2 million new jobs in STEM fields in 2018. Who is going to fill them if we don’t raise the next generation with that information?

Tell us what you’re doing to introduce computer programming to kids.

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2 thoughts on “What I Learned from Hour of Code (x12)

  1. My kids did the Hour of Code on Code.org (the 7-year-old needed a little more help than the 10-year-old) and enjoyed it. I think the tie-in to Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies was a big hit for them. I’m hoping to let them do a little more of the Code.org lessons, plus I’ve got my copy of Robot Turtles to break out soon!

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