In the media center at Brooklyn Park Middle School in Anne Arundel County, middle school students are attentively listening to older students from North County High School. At first glance, they appear to be playing some of the popular computer games — “Minecraft,” “Angry Birds” and a digital version of the movie, “Frozen.”
But the students are doing more than just playing the games; they’re learning to write the code behind the games. In addition, they’re having conversations about high school classes and careers.
They are participating in the Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. Hour of Code is organized by Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. A coalition of partners have come together to support the effort, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the College Board.
Watching the students in the media center at Brooklyn Park Middle School, Leslie Everitt, media specialist, wished Hour of Code lasted longer. “The kids are so engaged,” she said.
Everitt keeps the spirit of Hour of Code year-round, offering kids clubs such as “Game Testers,” which is sponsored by the University of Maryland, in partnership with Brigham Young University, as well as other organizations. “Students are beta-testing some virtual reality games,” she said. “They solve a puzzle. For example, in one of them, they had to figure out why all the grownups fell down and looked like they were unconscious after a meteor shower.”
Beth Shakan, Brooklyn Park’s principal, said that Hour of Code is an engaging way to help kids embrace technology. “We have to prepare kids to live in a world where technology is changing all the time, and we don’t know what technology they are going to use in the future,” she said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of all new jobs in science, technology, engineering and math will be in computing. Yet only about one-fourth of schools are teaching computer science classes.
“Through Hour of Code, kids got to see that they, as middle schoolers, can create games like the ones they play now,” said Shakan. “We will definitely expand on this.”
Both Anne Arundel and Howard County public schools have been growing their participation in Hour of Code and their partnerships with Code.org. Anne Arundel County Public Schools doubled its number of participants this year, with more than 60 schools — about half of the schools in the county — participating. The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) has 100% participation.
HCPSS signed a contract with Code.org last year, which has resulted in programs and resources that go even further than Hour of Code, said Julie Alonso-Hughes, instructional technology coordinator for the county.
“Hour of Code was so engaging to students that they had trouble sticking just to an hour,” said Alonso-Hughes. “Even the younger students could ‘program’ objects on the floor, on a grid.”
This year’s Hour of Code was held Dec. 7–13, in celebration of Computer Science Education Week.
Every school and every age group in Howard County participated in an appropriate fashion for their grade level, said Sharon Kramer, coordinator of career and technology education for the HCPSS. At Howard High School, Renee Foose, superintendent, visited a classroom where students taught her how to write a program.
And, at Longfellow Elementary School, “students had their iPads, they were coding, and robots were following the code,” said Kramer. “At Oakland Mills Middle School, the students did a ‘code slam’ as a spinoff activity. It was a code-writing challenge, and they brought in students from other schools.”
Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries. One-hour tutorials are available in more than 40 languages. In 2015, there have been 198,982 Hour of Code events organized around the world, with 71,116 taking place in the United States.
Code.org reports broad participation across gender, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, with a resulting increase in enrollment and participation in computer science courses at all grade levels.
What the program is basically intended to be is an introduction; and while no one becomes an expert computer scientist in just an hour, one hour is enough to teach many students that computer science can be fun and creative.