Have you written an app today? The Hour of Code is here
When it comes to the tech industry, American public schools are in many ways almost painfully out of the loop. Well-meaning legislators and school administrators throw funding into tech gadgets for students and school computer labs without actually changing the curriculum, inadvertently filling schools with lots of high-techs toys. By one estimate, only about 10 percent of schools host computer science courses. An ambitious program by Code.org is trying to change that. It's called the Hour of Code, and in 2014 it officially kicked off on Monday and continues through Sunday.
The Hour of Code is a very simple concept that has met with quite a bit of success. Since its inception, over 50 million beginners have studied computer code for at least a single hour. Code.org boasts that the Hour of Code program reached 15 million users in five days, easily beating out Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Tumblr.
They also point out that more girls "tried computer science" using the Hour of Code than in the previous 70 years combined; during 2013, more than 4 million young women learned an hour of code. In fact, this is one of Code.org's goals; besides inducting computer science as a core curriculum, Code.org hopes to close many of the gender and race disparities in the computer science world.
The Hour of Code program has some highly visible backers: Last year, celebrities like singer Shakira and actor Ashton Kutcher posted videos for its launch, and President Barack Obama gave a speech supporting the program. Several tech celebrities have also endorsed the program, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. This year, President Obama was present during an Hour of Code event and actually became, allegedly, the first U.S. president in history to write computer code (his program drew a square on the screen).
The idea seems to be to make coding accessible to anyone. Learning to code can be quite daunting: It's like learning another language, except with the caveat that any native speakers will turn blue and stop responding if you get your grammar wrong. The common catchphrase around the Hour of Code website is "Anybody can learn," and the website includes basic tutorials that range from adult to kindergarten levels of comprehension.
Code.org began as a hobby for Ali and Hadi Partovi. Their first project was a video they posted to YouTube, and almost instantly they were contacted by over 15,000 teachers looking for ways to implement computer science into their curriculums. Although their website is named Code.org, Hadi insists, "If we could fit EverySchoolShouldOfferComputerScience.org in one word, we'd do it." The organization is passionate about preparing children for the tech-driven modern world by making CS a staple of basic education.
Anyone interested in helping the cause can visit Code.org here, share videos or infographics from this page on Facebook, or host your own Hour of Code event. There's still time: The official Hour of Code one-week timetable runs out Sunday, but participants who miss the allotted time are encouraged to simply pick a different date and keep the festivities rolling. Who knows? Maybe in the future, the Hour of Code will become a year-round educational dynamo.