It was lunchtime in my library, and almost two dozen kids piled into our maker space to work on their projects and ideas. I was helping set up our students for various projects when my community partner Dixon Dick pulled out three Arduino Uno Inventors kits from SparkFun Electronics. He had been working with the members of our student Circuit Girls group, who were creating and building a snap-circuit speaker in a box. But today, he expanded their thinking with breadboards, computers, and code.
Dixon had just been commenting on how our kids love using their smart phones and social networking sites but don’t understand how these programs work. By learning even simple coding, this process is demystified, and students begin thinking about what they might modify or create themselves.
All of this is a great precursor to the upcoming activities we’re planning for the Hour of Code, which is a global movement initiated by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce computer science and programming to young people. This year’s event takes place on December 7–13. I can already see how this will help our students with problem-solving skills, logic, and creativity.
Helping to introduce students to coding also gives them terrific opportunities and skills in a field that may see as many as one million new jobs within the next five years. This opportunity is perhaps even more important for sparking an interest in computer science in girls. In 2014, more than 10 million girls participated in the Hour of Code. That’s more young women learning programming than in the previous 70 years combined.
It is easy to create varied Hour of Code activities, ranging from elementary coding games to complex programming construction. For ideas, check out the Hour of Code guides, or visit Code.org for tons of tutorials, programs, and resources. Kids can even Code with Anna and Elsa from Frozen. There are online programming tools like MIT’s Scratch, Carnegie Mellon’s Alice, and resources for the iPad like Hopscotch that allow our students to create their own games, which may propel the learning well beyond an hour.
Lots of folks on the Internet contribute resources as well. Carrie Anne of Geek Gurl Diaries has created a video playlist, including four great Hour of Code tutorials, including how to make snowflakes using Python code. She even suggests using visual program language like Blockly Games, which teaches Java scripting in fun and easy ways.
The Hour of Code is a terrific opportunity for librarians and educators, even those of us with little or no knowledge of coding. There are wonderful professional development resources that offer support for educators. Elementary educators can attend one-day workshops offered all over the U.S. There is even a self-paced online course that teaches computer science fundamentals.
Back in our maker space, our Circuit Girls were inquisitive. Their initial task was to construct a code that worked with the circuit board to cause a LED light to flash. What an exuberant yelp of excitement when they had success! Each student could gleefully explain why the lines of programming worked in conjunction with the circuit they had created.
As educators, we could offer prizes to the kids for participating, but the real prize will be the experience students will receive in constructing, collaborating, and learning as they create something fun and worthwhile.
I encourage you to join us in participating in the Hour of Code this year. If this all seems too intimidating, gather a few of your adventurous students and let them lead you. I know kids at our school will practically demand it, not only because they understand that these skills are important, but because they’re excited to tinker around with these ideas to see how and why they all work.
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