Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

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December 13, 2013
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Program encourages kids to try computer programming

Five months ago, it was just an idea. Now it’s a reality.

This week, more than 12 million people already have done an hour of computer programming as part of the Hour of Code campaign, which coincides with Computer Science Education Week.

Former Microsoft executives Hadi and Ali Partovi founded the nonprofit organization, called Code.org, in July and spearheaded the Hour of Code campaign, designed to get U.S. students interested in computer science and programming.

According to Code.org, the Partovi brothers have been lobbying states to require computer science as a core subject. Only six states are committed to requiring computer science as a core subject. Colorado is not one of them.

Aspen Country Day School embraced the Hour of Code concept and had every student in kindergarten through eighth grade participate.

Brian Davies is the director of technology at the school and said the Hour of Code has been a great tool for the school’s students to explore programming in a fun way.

“It’s awesome to see the enthusiasm with the programming,” he said. “The interesting thing to me is when I introduced using code, the girls here are really getting into it. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t offered to them in the past. On the Code.org site, you can see there are more girls participating in the Hour of Code than boys (52 to 48 percent).”

The Hour of Code was set up like a game that teaches the basic concepts of programming.

Usually programming is done in text, but for the Hour of Code, the programming was done in Blockly, which uses visual blocks that students can drag and drop to write programs and create code.

The programs were designed to incorporate the Angry Birds game and maneuver one of the birds through a maze. The commands to move the bird are on the blocks, and students needed to stack the correct blocks together to complete the coding. Once a student was satisfied with the blocks they connected, they could hit a “run” button to watch the bird respond to the Blockly coding.

“I think it’s really fun,” said Davis Cook, 10, a fifth-grader at the school. “I thought it was going to be more like actual code, but this program is set up like a game. If you can program, you can get a really good job and maybe program something cool, like a robot. This type of programming isn’t stressful at all.”

According to Code.org, 90 percent of schools in America do not teach computer coding. Computer science is a top-paying college degree, and computer-programming jobs are growing at twice the national average.

Funding for the Hour of Code project comes from Microsoft, LinkedIn, Google and a number of other corporate sponsors as well as through private donations from Bill Gates, the founder and current chairman of Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg, the chairman and chief executive officer of Facebook Inc.

There are videos on YouTube that promote the event, featuring Gates, Zuckerberg, President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs and a number of professional athletes and entertainers.

“This campaign is really important because it starts the national conversation on what is important of computer programming and computer science at a level of more than just using it,” Davies said. “The more we can introduce this to schools, the better off we’ll be nationally. It’s really an exposure issue. This will offer a lot of students the opportunity to explore programming that normally wouldn’t have the chance to do so. Already, as a result of this initiative, several school districts have decided to offer computer science as a study channel. If we even get two or three schools to offer it, that’s a great thing.”

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 13, 2013 07:20AM Published Dec 13, 2013 07:59PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.