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The Hour of Code

December 10, 2013

An hour? How about a lifetime? Most of our readers are (or at least have been) coders. Many of us learned computer programming back when it was, if not a cool thing, at least a relatively common career path. Have you noticed, though, how few schools these days teach programming? Sure, they use computers as tools in the curriculum but just try to find a school that teaches kids the basics of how to program them. They are few and far between--fewer than 10 percent in the U.S. K-12 schools. That should worry all of us, particularly when you consider that in China, every student learns computer programming.

But perhaps YOU can help remedy this sad situation because YOU have a (wait for it)--Superpower!

Really? Yes, at least according to Code.org, which describes computer programming as the new superpower. Code.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing computer science education for everyone in schools (primarily K-12) and with a major focus on increasing participation by women and people of color.

Why does this all matter? Because it is predicted that 1 million of the best jobs in America may go unfilled; there will be 1 million more computing jobs than there are students over the next 10 years. Computing occupations are among the highest-paying jobs for new graduates. Yet fewer than 3 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science.

Code.org is working with Computing in the Core to sponsor a program called Hour of Code, whose goal is to get 5 million students in 33,000 classrooms around the world to learn at least one hour of computer science this week.

Why this week? Because Dec 9-15 is Computer Science Education week, or as we acronym-loving coders prefer to call it CSEdWeek. This is an annual program timed to coincide with the birthday of Admiral Grace Hopper on Dec 9. If you aren't familiar with Grace Hopper, you should be. Take a look at her bio and you'll see what we mean. She is credited, among other things, with creating programming languages as we know them today, and she popularized the term "debugging". See--those bugs have been with us from the very beginning!

This Hour of Code campaign isn't just a small group of geeks sending out a few emails. It is big. There are videos on many aspects of coding, targeted mostly to kids but inspiring to all. In the "What Most Schools Don't Teach" promo video alone, we see some perhaps predictable celebs such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Drew Houston (DropBox), along with Chris Bosh (NBA All-star) and Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. Other celebs helping to bring up the cool factor on learning to code - and clearly this group is targeting those young women out there, include Ashton Kutcher and boy band IM5.

In the actual "Hour of Code" tutorial videos themselves, we see Bill Gates teaching If logic and Chris Bosh teaching Repeat Until statements.

Even Barack Obama gets into the game to encourage kids to code. And it's a rare non-partisan effort with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor providing a promo video as well. 

Most of the Hour of Code tutorials use the simple visual teaching language Scratch, which is great for teaching the concepts to kids. Take a look and see if your kids or grandkids wouldn't learn a lot and have fun with this tool. Jon's not a kid (age wise anyway) but he's had a copy on his Mac for some time now and it is a lot of fun.

But there are also tutorials for other "real" programming languages, such as Javascript. That one was created by KhanAcademy. So if you've been putting off learning Javascript, have a look!

Another organization, Girl Develop It is also part of this movement to increase development skills. While computer science education in general is at a remarkably low level, participation by women in IT is even lower. The organization is striving to change this and have several local chapters around North America working to encourage girls and women in technology.

So this is CSEdWeek, but even after this week, the need for extending computer programming education is critical. Get involved. Visiting Code.org or the Girl Develop It sites will help you find ways to get involved. There are documents to use to help convince your own local schools to teach computer science. There are local chapters of Girl Develop It that you could become involved with.

We'll close with the quote that begins some of the Hour of Code videos from Steve Jobs: "Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer ... because it teaches you how to think."

Posted December 10, 2013| Permalink

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