24 December 2014

Coding in December

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My thirteen year old tech-savvy son thought it was a hoot that I was the parent advocating for his middle school to participate in Hour of Code this year. Since my boys started school nine years ago, I've been volunteering in the public school system. I've chaperoned field trips, baked goodies, and sold refreshments at middle school dances, but the volunteering I've enjoyed the most has been the times I have been able to work directly with students. When I sign up for committees, I try to sign up for committees that might afford me the opportunity to interact with students. Maybe it's my former teacher self who misses regular interactions with students. Maybe it's my parent self who wants to know the kids my own children attend school with. Or, maybe, it's my school improvement advocate self who wants to know what students really think about school, and the best way to know is to be there with the students.  Regardless of the reason, I set my plan in motion in October when I first heard about Hour of Code via Twitter.

By working with the head of technology at the middle school my sons I attend, I was able to gain access to two teachers who felt they had room in their curriculum to squeeze in an hour of coding during the official week December 8-14. These teachers opened their classrooms to me, and I spent each hour working directly with students as they tried out the various tutorials on the Hour of Code site. The best part? Hearing kids say "hey miss--I got it! I figured it out!" None of the students with whom I worked had any previous experience with coding.

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Whatever field our children choose to enter as adults, their ability to succeed will increasingly hinge on understanding how computers and other technology work. Nearly 9 out of 10 schools do not offer any computer science classes. Yet, the demand for skilled workers to fill computer science jobs will continue to increase. Supposedly by 2020, there will be a million vacant computer science jobs. When I shared this statistic with some eighth graders, I saw their faces light up a bit.

Across the globe, schools are beginning to see the benefits of teaching coding. While jobs in the future might motivate some people to teach coding, I can imagine others are less motivated by jobs and more motivated by other benefits. Coding teaches students problem solving and forces them to pay attention to details, and if you have students work in teams on coding, they are also learning valuable skills as members of a team.

Business and community partners have everything to gain by volunteering time and resources in our public schools. Microsoft sends their engineers to schools to teach courses and volunteer, and several other organizations (including Facebook, Google, and the Ford Foundation) partner together as part of the #yeswecode movement. One of my favorite holiday activities this year was following Google's work with lighting up Christmas trees (an initiative aimed at getting more girls to code) and encouraging kids to use the Santa Tracker to code. Certainly, these activities are specific to people who celebrate Christmas, but since I celebrate Christmas, I found it fun to see the opportunities to make the holiday a continued learning experience.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, administrator, or community member reading my blog, I want to encourage you to support more coding opportunities in the area where you live because it's interesting to kids and it provides them valuable skills and experiences in life now and for their future.

Earlier this month, I attended and presented at the Achieve Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. so my colleagues and I took a walk the first evening to see the Christmas lights. We were excited to see the trees that were lit because students wrote computer code to light them up.
Seeing my world come full circle this December along the Christmas Pathway of Peace delighted me to no end. Kentucky's ornaments this year created by students from the Warehouse After School Program in Danville. This is the very program co-founded by Kendra Montejos, the young woman I interviewed for a Cake and Whiskey magazine article. You can read more here.