Experiencing Hour of Code

A few years ago I signed up to volunteer for a local Hour of Code event on the Code.org website. It took a few years, but I was asked to take part in an event this year at a local elementary school. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but took the opportunity as a learning event for me as well as the kids.

Hour of Code started back in December of 2013 as a way to promote computer science in classrooms across the United States. Over the years, the effort has grown and students across the world now participate in coding activities. The idea is for students to take an hour and try coding to introduce them to some of the principles of computer science. The Hour of Code website has many different activities with different themes to create interest and fun for anybody. Many are about solving various puzzles using “blocks” that cause an avatar to move about the screen. For example, a student can code up the Minecraft guy to turn, break blocks, and collect items by dragging and dropping code “blocks” that perform those commands. BB-8, Elsa from Frozen, and Flappy Bird, to name a few, make appearances in their own activities to keep a wide variety of kids interested in solving the problem at hand. There are also more advanced games that use Javascript and other languages, though are still pretty easy to quickly learn.

When I arrived at the elementary school I was directed to go to the teacher’s classroom. I met two of the 5th grade teachers and was introduced to their students. I started out by introducing myself and some basic details about my job. Their teacher prompted me with some additional questions to go into more detail about what a normal developer’s day is like, my work environment, how I interact with coworkers, and so on. Then there was about a 15 minute question and answer period. The kids asked great questions about problem solving, different situations I may have encountered, how long I’ve been programming, my work environment and so on. I was worried I’d look out across the classroom and see everybody with their hands propping up their heads with bored looks on their faces. It was quite the opposite. They all seemed genuinely interested and were very respectful.

After that, the students were let loose to work on whatever activity from the Hour of Code website they wanted. They all had Chromebooks that were perfectly suited for the browser-based puzzles. I saw a lot of the children try out build your own Google Doodle, Minecraft, and Star Wars activities. Most of them had participated as 4th graders, so they picked them up really quickly. To be honest, I only had to help a couple of them get started, and when they got the idea of dragging around the code blocks, they picked up the idea and excelled. Some of the students collaborated on their projects and some worked independently. It was great to see them solving problems so well.

I had a great time with the students and it was great to see them learning some of the basic concepts of computer science and programming. My hope is that they got the enjoyment out of solving problems that I do when I solve a problem with a great solution and maybe they will see how even basic programming skills can help out in their lives. Maybe some of the students were inspired to take up a career in technology? I would recommend that anybody reading this that is interested in volunteering to go to the Code.org volunteer site and sign up and hopefully a teacher will contact you to help students in your community experience computer science. It only takes an hour to inspire someone.

Also published on Medium.

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