Hour of Code, Zebra Style!

December 18, 2015

By Rachel Haselby

I teach Digicom at Rochester Zebra New Tech High School.  Digicom is a dual taught class combining English 10 and Digital Media.  We use the Adobe suite pretty heavily, especially Photoshop and Premiere Pro.  We also touch on the basics of how computers work and good digital citizenship as well as introduce coding, mostly through object oriented coding such as Scratch or what you would find on code.org.  I generally introduce coding starting during Computer Science Education Week, which takes place the week of Dec. 7-11.

We usually kick off the week by taking part in the Hour of Code, then have the students write a story.  Once their story is completed, they turn their story into a game using Scratch.  This year, we mixed things up a bit.  First of all, the Hour of Code was postponed at the high school due to school being closed because of freezing fog the day it was scheduled.  We will be doing it next week.  Digicom moved forward though.  When we finally got back to school on Tuesday, I introduced code.org, and talked to my students about the why it is important to be exposed to coding, even if they choose not to learn an entire programming language.  Why is it important to teach young people how to code?  According to Steve Jobs, “Everyone in the country should learn to program a computer… because it teaches you how to think.”  Mitchel Resnick, the founder of Scratch explains this better by stating, “The true value in teaching kids to code is not the syntax, but in the way it teaches kids to think using a step-by-step logical flow to solve problems and build projects.”  According to code.org teaching our students to be fearless with computers will have long-term benefits for them also.  By the year 2020 it is anticipated that there will be more than 1.4 million computing jobs available.  It is also estimated that by the year 2020 there will be 400,000 computer science students graduating from college.

After our students had a better understanding of why they should be exposed to coding, we broke them into groups of 4-5 and explained the goal – bring the Hour of Code to the rest of the corporation. Each group was responsible for introducing the Hour of Code, explaining the importance of learning to code and choosing between two and four tutorials, learning them well enough to support them and answer questions about them.  Four days later my team teacher took a group to the middle school and I took a group to Riddle Elementary, which serve grades 3-5.  Digicom is a double block class, so we were able to give the students plenty of time to work.

I’m not going to lie, getting this approved by the administrators from each building, getting buy in from more than twenty-five teachers, and convincing 120 tenth graders they could do this was not an easy undertaking.  There were moments when it was absolutely terrifying and overwhelming.  The payoff was fantastic.  My students were also pretty terrified knowing they were going to have to teach concepts, so they took this very seriously.  They worked very hard on learning the basics of coding as well as their introduction on the reasons why coding was important.  Their hard work paid off.  They were able to stand up in front of younger students and talk about coding.  More importantly, they were able to walk around and support the young learners as they learned how to code. It was wonderful to see them answer questions and encourage the younger students.  I saw some very quiet students really shining in this environment.

I heard from multiple parents of younger students over the weekend.  Their children went home and went straight to the computer so they could keep coding.  One young man told his mom he loved coding, it was like recess, but he was learning.  That right there was the goal.  These kids now know there are options.  Right now, they think all there is to code is games, which is ok, they will not only learn how to write their own games, they will learn how to think in a logical way.  This will help them throughout life.

Like I said, getting this to happen wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, and it most certainly stretched my organizational skills, but it was worth it, and it was something I can’t wait to do again.