Teach a Kid to Code

Throughout the week of December 7-13, schools, libraries, and informal learning spaces will hold Hour of Code activities.

Make room, techies. This week, kids all over the world are joining your ranks.

The occasion is Hour of Code, an international initiative in its third year. The program provides free, hour-long tutorials designed to be engaging and accessible for coding newbies “ages 4 to 104.” Throughout the week of December 7-13, schools, libraries, and informal learning spaces will hold Hour of Code activities.

To the uninitiated educator with tight resources and a lot on their plates, teaching young children to code can seem like a daunting or even silly task. In her first year as the technology integration specialist at Pittsburgh’s Keystone Oaks School District, Carol Persin assumed coding—she was familiar with HTML and Javascript—was out of reach for young students. Participating in Hour of Code last year, Persin was delighted to encounter “block-based” coding tutorials, which use visual representations of abstract concepts. This year, Keystone Oaks schools are taking part.

The nonprofit Code.org, which organizes the coding week, hopes educators will share Persin’s revelation. According to Code.org research, 67 percent of new jobs in Pennsylvania are in computing, yet just one in four schools in the state offers computer science courses. Many kids in Pittsburgh and beyond are not exposed to the tools and classes that will open up entire industries to them.

“The Hour of Code is usually our students’ first experience with a necessary skill that will be a large part their everyday adult lives and quite possibly their future careers,” said Marty Sharp, technology integration specialist at Woodland Hills School District.[pullquote]“They are learning to problem-solve, to collaborate, to communicate.”[/pullquote]

The professional tech world is notoriously homogeneous, and as early as high school, the sorting begins. In Pennsylvania in 2013, only 3.7 percent of students who took the AP Computer Science exam were black, and only 2.3 percent were Hispanic, according to Code.org. Nineteen percent of computer science college graduates in the state were female. Programs like Hour of Code aim to get as many kids as possible introduced to computer science as early as possible.

“We are lighting the fire of interest in the new literacy of learning to code and understand code,” said Megan Cicconi, who leads coding education workshops for Allegheny County public school teachers through a partnership between Code.org and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. “This provides the foundation for the careers these students will have in the future,” she said.

Some educators participating in Hour of Code added that a student does not need to pursue a tech job for the lessons to be valuable.

“While coding is a wonderful skill for the students to have, what we are most interested in is the students’ thinking,” said Alison Francis, facilitator at the Fox Chapel Area Creativity and Literacy Program, which is participating in Hour of Code. “They are learning to problem-solve, to collaborate, to communicate, to persist, and the skills like sequencing that they are learning apply to other curricular areas as well, such as reading and math.”

Last year, Persin enjoyed watching students problem-solve, identifying issues in the code and debugging it. After all, she said, most of her students spend so much time using digital devices that it’s a thrill to watch them begin to create those products.

See participating Hour of Code sites in Pennsylvania here.

Published December 07, 2015