Computers have become so commonplace they have lost their mystique. The kids who eagerly programmed their Texas Instruments back in the '80s have grown up and been replaced with kids who can download any app to fit their fancy. Believe it or not, the world needs more programmers.
To fill that need, Hour of Code was developed as an international push to encourage kids to learn how to program computers. A curriculum was designed to allow students to learn the basics of computer science in just one hour, enough time to learn that computer science is fun and creative, that it is accessible at all ages, for all students regardless of background. Educators also gain the confidence to teach the basics of computer science, even though the concept may be new to them as well.
As part of its STREAM program, Southtowns Catholic School in Lake View brought Hour of Code to its K-8 classes during Computer Science Week, Dec. 7-11. Using the Code.com website, Elizabeth Schanbacher, assistant principal and tech coordinator, created grade-appropriate lesson plans. Rather than jump in and actually write code, students use Blockly, literally blocks of pre-written code that tell the Angry Bird where to go to catch the Naughty Pig. Students can examine the actual code after successfully catching the pig.
A typical class begins with a video from President Obama speaking about the value of computer science. Then, Schanbacher demonstrates the lesson. The students log in, type in a pass code, and follow the program independently.
Schanbacher has broken the technology curriculum into two-month blocks covering Digital Citizenship; Tech Awareness, which includes Hour of Code; Project-Based Learning; and Technology, Social Studies, ELA, Religion.
"By the end of January, they will be able to understand the background of how a computer program works, and they'll be able to do some programing," she said.
Eighth-graders start off using Blockly, then will go into writing their own coding, and beyond. Schanbacher hopes to sign up the students for a Build an App class during a field trip to the Microsoft Store at the end of January.
The code.org website allows anyone to play and learn from any computer or tablet.
"The purpose of this is to generate interest in the computer science field and to consider a career in computer science, because there are a lot of jobs in computer science and not a lot of people trained in computer science," Schanbacher said.
It was just last month, during Computer Science Week, that computer science was added to the definition of a well-rounded education. Code.org has stated that only 1 in 4 schools teaches computer science.
"So, kids don't get a lot of exposure at a young age to computer science, which is when they develop interests and start thinking about careers," Schanbacher said. "I'm just trying to get them interested in considering working with computer science in some way, shape or form, because there will be jobs. It's a good skill to have. As the technology evolves, in the background is always some type of code, math and science making things work."
The hand-on approach to learning seems to hold onto the attention of the fourth-grade class.
"It's really fun," said Cameron Rogan, 10. "If you want to be a scientist, you're sort of being a scientist. If you want to be a programmer, now you have a little head start."
Classmate Emma Labby, 9, agrees. "It's really fun, because you get to create your own game basically," she said.