by Kevin Dicciani
Last week, students from Our Mother of Consolation Parish School joined millions of other students around the world to participate in the Hour of Code, a global project that aims to teach schoolchildren the basics of computer science and coding.
The Hour of Code was initiated in 2013 and organized by Code.org. On its website, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit says its organization is “dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color.”
So far the project has been used by over 70 million students. Its one-hour tutorials are taught in more than 30 languages and 180 countries. Major leaders in the tech industry, including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, have contributed about $10 million to Code.org.
This year, the Hour of Code has reached its crowdfunding goal of raising over $5 million, making it the most successful Indiegogo campaign of all-time, with the amount of participants doubling in size.
Although anyone can host the project at any time, Code.org wanted to promote computer science to students ages 4 and up from Dec. 8-14 in honor of Computer Science Education Week. For one hour during the week, students learned the basics of programming and code, with participants able to choose from a selection of online tutorials designed to be easily accessible, educational and entertaining.
Melissa Nash, OMC’s technology teacher, helped usher in the Hour of Code last spring along with Mary Strain, a school parent. Nash thought OMC should adopt the project, believing it would benefit students’ cognitive abilities today and serve them well in the technological world of the future.
“It seems to be a worthwhile thing to be exposed to at an early age,” Nash said. “Even if you don’t become a programmer, it’s good to understand what goes into it. The things you have to do to program help your thinking abilities. Problem-solving, working with other people – things that affect not only the computer side of learning but almost every side of learning.”
Grades K-8 had a class period in which Nash and Strain guided students through the various tutorials, which utilize problem-solving, logic and creativity. Nash said the students performed the tasks with enthusiasm and had a “really good time.”
“Overall, amongst all the grades, amongst all the students, they really enjoyed it, which is good,” Nash said. “It was amazing how well they could do it with just a little bit of guidance. We made a lot of progress, and they really liked it.”
The Hour of Code is easily accessible and interactive, Nash said. She initially thought the tutorials would be dry, but it turned out that students enjoyed the tasks, finding them both fun and challenging. Some students, Nash said, even went home and continued with the tutorials.
Nash said learning how to program now will open up an array of career opportunities for students in the future, as there is a growing need for programmers.
“There is such a need for programmers,” she said. “That’s one of the few areas of employment that’s going without jobs getting filled every year, and it’s getting worse.”
Even though OMC has finished its Hour of Code, Nash said she plans to continue to teach programming to the students. Their success with the project and the material has laid a foundation for future programming, which Nash said is evidenced by the student’s success and interest in writing code.
“This is just a start,” she said.
By erasing the stigma around programming now, Nash said, students might find themselves later on down the line, in high school, in college, taking a class in code, or maybe doing it for a career. The important thing, in an age when 90 percent of schools still don’t teach computer science, is giving students a chance to succeed.
“It’s important to teach children at a young age that programming exists, and they can do it,” Nash said. “Sometimes you think, ‘Oh, anyone who works with computers must be a genius – I can’t do it.’ Well, that’s just not true.”
For more information, visit HourofCode.com.