Wednesday, December 18, 2013

#HourofCode #KidsCanCode

During the week of December 9-15, students across the U.S. participated in Computer Science Education week, and my school celebrated by participating in code.org's #HourofCode. I'm an English teacher at an all-girl's school, which at first glance might make me seem like an unlikely candidate for this activity. But, I'm very interested in technology integration in schools, I'm married to a computer programmer who bemoans the lack of female engineers in his industry, and I'm active on Twitter, so all signs (and hashtags) pointed to coding.

With the help of Erik Nauman and Shelley Bookstein, two of our Technology instructors, we introduced students to a variety of coding opportunities. Some used visual programming tools such as Kodable and Scratch while others explored Arduino or Daniel Schiffman's Hello Processing. As a 5th Grade teacher, my students spent much of their time using Kodable, an iPad app that looks and feels so much like a game that our girls were begging for extra time to play and reach higher levels. Even as the tasks became so challenging that I often found myself stumped, the students pushed on, using trial and error and experimenting with patterns of repetition in order to complete mazes and unlock new characters and levels. Indeed, our students were so enamored that by the end of CSE Week, Erik had to upgrade our free app to Kodable Pro, and I had students arrive at school excited about how many levels they'd completed at home over the weekend on their personal devices.

Most wonderful about the #HourofCode was the genuine interest and motivation our students showed just moments after being introduced to the various programming tools. While most folks have been very excited about the #HourofCode, some of the discussion on Twitter regarding the Code.org initiative has revolved around whether this was simply a gimmick. I saw young students discover an interest and aptitude in a field they might not have known existed prior to CSE Week, and so in my eyes the "gimmick" was incredibly successful. As Jeff Wise points out in his recent New York Magazine article, Coding Kids, the number of students who graduate with CS degrees is far fewer than the number of jobs in the field that need filling. Last week kids all over the country discovered a new passion, which seems like the right first step in closing that gap.