Coding at the Apple Store: Our Hour of Code Experience

When Ariane pointed out that Apple was sponsoring in-store Hour of Code events this week, I hopped on the free stuff in a store bandwagon. First, let me be totally honest: $Free. is my favorite price. I will do almost anything if you tell me I’m getting a free service. When I heard that the Apple store ten minutes from my house would be providing an in-store class for kids, I couldn’t get my kid signed up fast enough.

When I heard that the Apple store ten minutes from my house would be providing an in-store class for kids, I couldn’t get my kid signed up fast enough.

Up to this point, the nearest I’d come to an in-store training at the Apple store was asking questions about my own Mac because I am committed to my fully integrated Mac environment at this point. Not knowing what to expect, I went in with low expectations because that’s pretty much how I roll. However just like with my first iPod, Apple blew me away.

At the store, the kids all sat down around a large table, were handed iPad minis, watched a short video, and started programming BB-8 through a series of mazes using the www.code.org website.

I hear you, you’re now asking, “But why did you leave your nice, comfy couch to go to an impersonal mall store when you could have spent quality time teaching your child this yourself?” And to this question, I have to, politely, chucklesnort.

My son, age six, has determined that I obviously know nothing. If there is a Thing to Learn, it cannot possibly be learned from me because I am not worthy. As an example, four days ago we were looking for some new websites to play around with and lo one of them linked directly to a Star Wars coding game. The wailing and gnashing of teeth at the mere suggestion that he try something new sounded akin to a Chewbacca howl of pain.

Courtesy Karen Walsh
Courtesy Karen Walsh

Upon seeing that exact same website be presented at the Hour of Code event, my insides froze faster than Anna’s heart when Elsa hit her accidentally. I slowly circled the table watching my son’s reaction like a predator waiting to pounce upon its prey. I watched as he settled into his spot at the table. I watched as he became engaged.

That’s the thing about these kinds of events: the sense of community that comes with working in a group of others doing the same thing. Children act like those little iron filings that you draw with using a magnet. Get one interested and the others will glom onto that activity. Instead of fighting with me about engaging in the coding, my son became particularly excited to work.

Now, despite the fact that many of the parents in attendance with their children helped their kids with the coding, I had to step back. As I said earlier, I am a highly incompetent human being in the eyes of my child. Therefore, as he refuses to learn for me, I let him loose on his own. This is where I need to commend the Apple Store employees. Their patience with the kids was unparalleled. My son is a very

This is where I need to commend the Apple Store employees. Their patience with the kids was unparalleled. My son is a very attention-centric human being. He wants perfect things and when it doesn’t happen immediately he gets frustrated with himself. The Apple Genius helping the kids did a really wonderful job diffusing the frustrated whining. As I apologized to the Apple Creative (I learned a lot of cool terms, as well, talking to the guys) for not being the engaged parent, he assured me that he understood, having two kids of his own, how kids sometimes perform better for non-parents. Ten minutes later, I tried to help my son figure out what directions he needed to drag and drop from the list of code commands to the working area. My son, refusing to look up from the iPad, says, “No, Mama. You are not an Apple Genius. You can’t help me.”

Courtesy Karen Walsh
Courtesy Karen Walsh

Honestly? He’s probably right. I could have figured it out. In the past, I took a coding class to get a sense of it. I can certainly figure out how to drag and drop prewritten code in a learning tutorial.

In fact, the www.code.org coding games are excellent. They do a really wonderful job of integrating the game creation with the game play. The Star Wars tutorial involves creating a series of actions that run a short program to direct BB-8 through a series of obstacles.

As the tutorials become more involved, the children learn to create a game to play. For example, one of the levels requires making sure that you incorporate a total of 900 points into the game. The game’s objective will be to catch three rebel pilots. Part of the problem to solve was not just to code the program, but also to play the game to make sure that you can earn enough points to move on to the next level. If you don’t assign 300 points to each caught rebel pilot, you can’t move on. What’s excellent about this setup is that there is a built in reward for the kids. Make the game. Play the game. Level up from playing the game that you made. This built in reward means that it appeals to three different types of kids. Some kids just like to make stuff. These kids get that from the coding. Some kids really just want to play a game. Those kids make something and then get to play a video game. Some kids just like to earn points because they’re competitive. That comes from the level up. By appealing to these individual and integrated motivational factors, the www.code.org tutorials incorporate not just some great intuitive lessons about coding but also some really great intuitive educational dynamics.

Courtesy Karen Walsh
Courtesy Karen Walsh

Did I really want to put on shoes and postpone putting on my pajamas? No. However, would my son have ever agreed to play with coding tutorials in our house? I’m fairly certain that you can figure out the answer to that at this point. In that vein, I would like to extend a deeply grateful “Thank You” to the Apple Store in Westfarms Mall, Farmington, CT. If he ever does decide to go into coding, I can say that this is one of those formative moments that will lead him there.

Some children need to feed off others and be instructed by people they see as outsiders. My son is one of those kids. Yes, we could have struggled and argued to use this exact same website at the computer in our house. In fact, he very easily could have used his iPhone, my iPad, one of our two laptops, his Kindle, the desktop computer we let him noodle on, or my husband’s Galaxy tablet to play around with the coding games. However, for my son, the Hour of Code Workshop at the Apple Store was the way to engage him. Oh yeah, and we got a free set of earbuds. $Free.99. My favorite price.

Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she's SuperAdjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. She also works as a contract internal regulatory compliance auditor for banks. In addition, she writes comics and artist reviews at www.cosplayconnectuniversity.com.She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has one dog, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT.