Librarians Leading the Way | Hour of Code 2015

School librarians around the country are helping their students participate in Hour of Code—the worldwide movement held during Computer Science Education Week to introduce learners of all ages to computer programming.
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First graders at Richmond (VT) Elementary School writing code with the Scratch Jr. app during Hour of Code on December 7, 2015.

School librarians around the country are helping their students participate in Hour of Code—the worldwide movement held during Computer Science Education Week, December 7-13) to introduce learners of all ages to computer programming. Some librarians are extending the hours classes normally visit the library so students can get the full hour to program robots, write code for simple machines, and learn how computers think. “These are the kids who are going to be building the next apps,” says Barbara Johnson, a library media specialist at Jack Jackter Intermediate School, a third- to fifth-grade school in Colchester, CT. Twenty-eight classes will cycle through the library, where students will spend 40 minutes coding with the help of volunteers from local engineering firms and universities. During the last 20 minutes, teachers will join them and “get to play, too,” Johnson says.
Now in its third year, Hour of Code is logging nearly 190,000 related events taking place in more than 180 countries. But the popular campaign of the nonprofit Code.org goes well beyond annual events held in schools, libraries and other community locations. The larger objective is for schools, especially those serving minorities, to offer computer science courses and allow students to earn credit for them at the high school level. Code.org's campaign, which focuses on expanding access to computer science education among girls and minority students, won a victory earlier this fall when Congress passed and President Obama signed the STEM Education Act. Under the legislation, computer science joins the other sciences, technology, engineering, and math as part of the official definition of STEM education, which creates opportunities for schools to receive federal grants to support computer science programs. “This is a big deal because computer science is something that benefits every student,” according to a Code.org statement. “It gives them access to the highest paying, most in-demand jobs in the United States.” The organization, which offers a coding curriculum, is also seeing other signs of progress in school districts. In partnership with Code.org, 90 of the nation’s largest districts have added computer science to their curriculum. In addition, 16,000 teachers have been prepared to teach computer science through the organization’s professional development programs. Sixteen states have also changed policies to recognize computer science and 27 now count it toward a math or science credit in high school.

Unplugged programming

In many schools, especially at the elementary level, librarians are leading Hour of Code activities and other efforts to foster students’ knowledge of and interest in coding. “Elementary librarians are well positioned to run Hour of Code activities successfully, because in most cases we already have the tools we need to make these programs fly—a high comfort level with technology, an existing schedule into which we can fit programming classes, and most importantly, connections with every student and teacher in our schools,” says Beth Redford, a teacher librarian at Richmond Elementary School in Richmond, VT. Redford was inspired to implement Hour of Code in her school after reading an article in SLJ written by Donna Sullivan-Macdonald, the librarian at Orchard School in South Burlington, VT, and last year’s winner in that state of $10,000 worth of technology from Code.org. Instead of changing students’ schedule for the week, Redford worked with teachers to fit coding into enrichment and regular classroom time, as well as in the library. Kindergarten and first graders at Richmond are using apps such as ScratchJr, which introduce children to programming language, and older students are using at tutorial on Code.org called Star Wars: Build a Galaxy with Code. Redford is also making the free resources available to families so children can continue learning about coding at home. At Orchard School, Sullivan-Macdonald’s students are physically acting out programming language to gain a better understanding of the process. The students work in pairs as robots and programmers and  move around a large grid on the floor made from two clear shower curtains duct-taped together. “They pick a destination and the programmer has to program their robot to get to that destination,” says Sullivan-Macdonald. Students in the primary grades at Orchard work in teams during their hour. “I love to have kids talking out a problem together,” says Sullivan-Macdonald. She also received emails from parents—one of them a kindergarten dad who works as a software developer—asking to volunteer during the week.

Embracing computer science

Even though libraries are the hub of coding activity in many schools, librarians say they are seeing changes that will allow students to gain more experience and pursue their interest in programming. Code_Unplugged5

Coding on a shower curtain at Orchard School, Burlington, VT.

At Orchard School, fourth and fifth graders are able to log in to the Code.org curriculum and work at their own pace. “Kids are really anxious to continue coding,” Sullivan-Macdonald says, adding that some schools in her district are talking about making coding part of the math curriculum. At Jackter Intermediate, two science lessons on simple machines were introduced in classrooms last week that tie into the programming students are doing in the library. Johnson says programming is also trickling down from middle schools and high schools to the elementary grades. Fourth graders are using Minecraft and courses are being designed around solving problems. “Teachers are sitting down and asking, ‘How can we connect this to content? How is this helping kids with math and reading?’” she says. “My entire district has embraced it.” CODE_logo_RGBTeaching a digital generation forces many teachers and librarians to reach above their comfort level. To introduce herself to coding, Amanda Hurley, the librarian at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, KY, spent time one evening working a programming game featuring Elsa and Anna from the Frozen movie. “I was so happy I tweeted about it,” she says. The next day she was able to convince others in the school to participate. The technology team for her district, Fayette County Public Schools, is also encouraging school board members to try coding this week and offering an incentive--$500 for technology—to a participating elementary, middle and high school. Johnson says even if educators are unsure about their own coding skills, they need to embrace children’s curiosity and enthusiasm and accept how quickly learning is changing. “I grew up a computer geek and was very involved in computers when they were as big as my car,” Johnson says. “Kids have all of this in the palm of their hand.”

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