Coming next month: The Hour of Code is at hand
When it comes to getting the younger generation interested in computer programming, there's nothing I like seeing more than the slogan: JOIN THE LARGEST LEARNING EVENT IN HISTORY, DEC 8-14, 2014. (I use ALL CAPS not to indulge in the visual equivalent of shouting, but rather, to reproduce those stirring words as originally stated at Code.org.)
I was involved in teaching an "Intro to Programming" class at my son's elementary school last year. Although class started at 6:30 in the morning (the first bell rings at 7:20, and we wanted to get a full 50-minute period in before they had to start the school day for real), we had more than three times as many interested students competing for a seat in the class as there were actual chairs to sit them in.
Even so, we wound up with 34 students in a class that was supposed to max out at 30, because some of the families involved simply woudn't take "no" for an answer when we announced the students who'd been chosen to participate. This group of fourth and fifth graders proved to be very gung-ho, despite the early hour, and some of them even demanded extra work, including take-home summer projects after school let out at the end of May.
Why am I telling you this? To provide one very small data point to illustrate that at least some kids are very interested in programming, and that many more have at least passing interest in the subject. After shepherding our population through a year-long class, I can also report that at least a dozen of the 34 students involved showed a real aptitude for writing code and designing code — to the point where I, as a 30-year professional in IT with at least a decade of full-on programming experience, was challenged to keep them productively and fully engaged in their work.
That's what makes next month's Hour of Code exercise both interesting and compelling for 2014. At the Microsoft Learning website, Keith Loeber of the IT Academy explains in a recent blog that "most K-12 students are not exposed to computer science unless they demonstrate a special interest in computers."
Loeber goes on to cite statistics that "90 percent of primary and secondary schools don't offer computer science classes." Even more shocking, he discloses that "25 states don't allow students to count computer science courses toward high school graduation" and that "less than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science." No wonder, then, that a growing number of technical positions in computing are going unfilled, beaucoup programming jobs among them.
Simply put, the objective of the Hour of Code (HoC) is to provide what Mr. Loeber identifies as "the right tools to demystify computer science for educators." Last year's Hour of Code enlisted over 47 million participants worldwide, and this year's efforts have been carefully calculated and constructed to beat those numbers (which explains why the HoC for 2014 is billed as the "largest learning event in history").
And by no coincidence whatsoever, the event for the Hour of Code — which involves at least one hour of computer science instruction, and ample access to online tools and labs to learn and practice computer programming — will occur during what's billed as Computer Science Education Week.
Interested parties should visit the Hour of Code with TouchDevelop site for access to tutorials, tools, and labs that teach basic programming concepts and constructs. and get students started into the valuable and interesting field of computer science. It features what Loeber describes as "a touch-friendly app creation tool for iPad,iPhone, Android, Windows, Windows Phone, Mac, and Linux" devices where "in just one hour, students can create fun, exciting games; and then move �beyond an hour' to create advanced games and cloud-connected socially-oriented apps." It's been set up to guide participants in small, simple steps through a visually arresting and sonically appealing environment to engage and retain their interest while teaching them useful material at the same time.
At the same time, IndieGoGo is running a fund-raising campaign called An Hour of Code for Every Student, where other interested parties have already contributed $3.9 million toward a $5 million overall fundraising target to help support this effort. I hope that readers of this blog will not only join me in promoting HoC, and helping to get the word out, but that they will also contribute $10 to this worthy cause, as I just did. I'd like to think of it as giving back in some small way for all the many mentors and sources of information and inspiration who've help me make a great professional life out of working in IT, and passing that torch (and my interest and passion) on to the next generations.