‪For #HourOfCode, Young Programmers In Pittsburgh Teach Their Peers

Last week’s Hour of Code was designed to give millions of US students who have never taken computer science their first taste of programming. The Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy took it one step further by putting high school students in the teaching role.

In mid-December, more than 15 million students spent at least one hour learning about computer programming, according to the nonprofit code.org, which launched the Hour of Code this year as part of Computer Science Education Week. The event was designed to get more kids interested in computer science.

Here in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, known locally as SciTech, lept on the bandwagon, involving about 200 students—nearly half its student body.

The coding tutorials took place in the school cafeteria, where 80 novice coders were paired up and matched with a high school tutor, who guided them through beginning programming experiences. When the rookie coders finished their first piece of programming, they talked about code with representatives from Carnegie Mellon University and Google and played student-designed video games in a penny arcade. (Proceeds from the arcade went to Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts.)

SciTech has a 1-1 laptop program and wireless access throughout the building, so infrastructure issues were minimal. But prepping the people took lots of work. Computer science teacher Ann Gollapudi said she spent a week preparing her students to lead programming tutorials in which students used Scratch, a graphics-based programming language, to make interactive holiday cards.

Gollapudi’s colleague Kayla Schultz trained high schoolers to lead tutorials in Python and Java. The high school students practiced their lesson plans on each other and gave each other written feedback to refine their teaching. “Our guests were amazed by how organized our students were,” Gollapudi said. This is not the first time Pittsburgh students took the lead—see our post about what happens when young students share their expert technology skills.

The hard work didn’t stop at a single hour of code, either. In January, SciTech will host CodeDay Pittsburgh, a 24-hour hackathon led by nonprofit tech educators StudentRND. At CodeDay Pittsburgh, SciTech’s Hour of Code participants can take the next step toward learning how to put code to work designing apps, video games, and other cool projects.

SciTech Hour of Code organizers said student interest was high enough to suggest even longer-term effects. “Students were excited and fully engaged. I suspect the enrollment for our computer science classes will increase in the coming years,” as a result of the Hour of Code, predicted English teacher Juliette Hill.

That will be music to the ears of the organizers of Hour of Code, whose goals are to show today’s kids the joys and benefits of learning how computers work. While not everyone will become a programmer—not everyone who can tickle the ivories becomes a composer after all—coding will likely become a defining literacy going forward. Pittsburgh students are already ahead of the pack.

Photo / Mast Charter

Published December 17, 2013