With technology changing every industry on the planet, computing knowledge has become part of a well-rounded skill set for graduates, yet fewer than half of all schools in the United States teach computer science.   

Philanthropic donations from Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are helping to raise awareness about the need to increase the number of offerings as well as the number of students taking the classes. 

 Not only is it important for students to learn how to navigate today’s tech-saturated world, but it’s also a lucrative choice. A computer science major can earn 40% more than the college average. 

Computer science is for everyone so Hour of Code last week was geared toward beginners. Thousands of teachers hosted the Hour of Code using hundreds of online activities to spark interest in computer science. Coding can sound intimidating, but the activities start out simple. 

“The Hour of Code is designed to demystify code and show that computer science is not rocket science—anybody can learn the basics,” said Hadi Partovi, founder, and CEO of Code.org. “Over 100 million students worldwide have tried an Hour of Code. The demand for relevant 21st-century computer science education crosses all borders and knows no boundaries.”

Though the annual week to emphasize coding has passed, many are using the spark of interest it created to generate more interest in coding classes. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) activities at elementary schools have begun to include coding. Project Lead The Way (PLTW) units at the middle and high schools include computer programming courses. 

This fall the DDC Pathway at Granite Hills High School transitioned to a new name, CODE (Computer Operations & Development Education). The program is focusing on coding, cybersecurity and computer application technology.  One Granite Hills student in the program coded an app to help display all the Pathway options in the district. 

When teachers don’t know how to code, Hour of Code offers a great opportunity to learn alongside students utilizing hundreds of free online tutorials. They feature characters that kids love including Angry Bird, Ice Age, The Grinch and Elsa from Frozen.  

Some teachers picked a tutorial for the whole class while others allowed students to choose their own activities because they were at differing levels. Tutorials at code.org/learn teach numerous coding languages. Code the News teaches Python. Star Wars uses javascript. Make Music utilizes Scratch and Minecraft uses blocks.

Resources and instructional tools on Code.org are available to teachers all year long. Many activities include lesson plans for teachers to help them navigate the steps and become familiar with coding using these different computer languages. 

Teachers can play the games they think will most interest their students. These often include puzzling problems to intrigue their students. Posing them will likely challenge students to collaborate in order to discover how to combine lines of code to solve them. 

Student volunteers were excited to help others with coding during the event which really boosted their self-confidence. Limited technology was handled with pair programming. Student interactions enhance problem-solving and coding. When students partner up, they help each other and rely less on the teacher. That also helps them see that computer science is social and collaborative. 

Code.org is dedicated to expanding participation in computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. Its vision is that every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer programming.

Female students in computer science classes at high school and university as well as in the industry comprise only 20-25% of participants. During the Hour of Code, female students made up 50% of all participants.

The goal of Hour of Code is to foster interest in computer science even after it’s over. Hopefully, students this week are pursuing more coding activities and will take computer science classes so they can enter this lucrative industry that’s growing exponentially.

 

Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at educationallyspeaking@gmail.com.

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