Students in Orange County’s middle schools and libraries had the opportunity last week to learn how to write the code that runs computer programs.
The "Hour of Code" is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries. The one-hour tutorials are available in more than 40 languages.
Launched in 2013, Code.org is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. The organization’s vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science. Code.org believes computer science should be part of core curriculum alongside other courses such as biology, chemistry or algebra. Code.org increases diversity in computer science by reaching students of all backgrounds where they are--at their skill-level, in their schools and in ways that inspire them to keep learning.
Participants log in, are given a short tutorial and work with scenes from Minecraft, Star Wars or Frozen to have characters move and complete tasks by structuring commands to correspond with computer keyboard actions.
Three panels on the screen contain a playing field, a list of commands and a self-made menu, where commands can be dragged and ordered to complete tasks, such as "move character up when up arrow is clicked." Coding gets more complex as the one-hour session progresses and students can "stack" commands to control the characters, scenarios and scoring.
Approximately 640 students at Locust Grove Middle School were among those who had the opportunity to spend one hour writing computer code last week.
A total of 55 faculty and staff members at LGMS also devoted an hour to the effort.
"It’s so much a part of our lives. There’s going to be a shortage, by the time these students are adults, of people to operate all this technology," said LGMS Testing and Technology Resource Teacher Jennifer Riddle.
"We’re getting the students to think and understand programming is not about just sitting behind a screen and creating a video game. It’s running all types of applications and programs all over the world for everything including medicine, science and engineering," she said.
"It’s not just teachers. We also have our school nurse, the school resource officer, the bookkeepers and guidance counselors writing code," Riddle said.
Riddle said LGMS set up a competition between the sixth, seventh and eighth grade teams.
"They all have their designated day to log in and code. Our goal is to get every child who has not had an opportunity on the computer to code," she said.
At the end of the week Riddle will look at the number of hours of code that were completed. One hour equates to one session. Whichever grade level has the highest participation, or got through the most sessions will win ice cream for the whole grade level.
"I’m excited when I’m watching these students and working with them, seeing them slow down and think, and they’re counting and they’re looking and making those critical decisions," she said.
Faculty and staff is also split up into three teams, and there are winning and consolation prizes for the competing teams.
"I encourage faculty and staff to go into classes where students are coding and work alongside the students, and the students enjoy coding alongside the faculty and staff because they are all at the same level. It empowers the students to have the opportunity to show and teach the teachers," Riddle added.
Riddle likes to see the collaboration when the students are helping each other.
"Even though each student is designing their own program and structuring commands to have characters do what they want them to do, it’s really nice to see them ask each other for help or volunteer to help someone when they finish up. It’s nice to see that interaction and communication, and that they are getting excited and proud of what they have done," Riddle said.
In addition to the competitions, each morning throughout the week, staff shared announcements about computer science to explain what it is and why it’s important for young people to learn.
Riddle said students are also getting the opportunity to experience some creativity, because they are the makers of the program.
"They are empowered with their creativity, creative thinking and problem solving," she added.
Riddle said the program has been well-received and students are very excited about the opportunity for the Hour of Code. When they finish their assigned session for the competition, they are allowed to log back in and explore and do more coding during their session.
"I’m working with my principals and teachers to possibly add some enrichment classes with a few teachers who would volunteer to do coding," Riddle said.
In addition to the Hour of Code, Riddle hosts a coding group called the "Mustang Coding Crew." Started this fall, the small group of students meets weekly and works through a four-part course in coding through Code.org.
Director of testing, data, and school improvement Jim Yurasits said, "This project has been a resounding success so far. I have heard students, teachers and principals all talk about how the students are learning coding and enjoying it. The skills they are picking up are in high demand right now in the work force and will help sharpen the critical thinking skills that will help them do better in their schoolwork and on the SOL tests. It is also fun."
For more information on the "Hour of Code" program, see https://code.org/.