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Local schools take on 'An Hour of Code'

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Education > Consortium of computer experts launch initiative

By Tris DeRoma

Right clicking on a web page often brings up some pretty interesting options. One of the commands that often comes up is “View Source,” a command that reveals the “code” behind what makes a web page a web page.
 As computers take over more and more areas of our lives, some think that it’s time people start exploring the “View Source” function as something a little more than a curiosity.
After all, they figure, if the average person can learn code, then the better off everyone will be in a computer-operated world. And that’s just not the code behind Web sites, but the code in software, smartphone apps and things that haven’t even been thought of yet.
“Nowadays, almost any job requires the use of a computer, whether that’s word processing, making web pages, sharing information or building applications,” said David Kratzer, a computer scientist who works at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
This week, a consortium of computer experts has launched a national initiative with the nation’s schools called “An Hour of Code.” The premise is simple: expose young kids of all ages to the fundamentals of writing computer code, and they will not only be able to master code easier, but apply the fundamentals to whatever challenge they face. They have a Web site about it at code.org.
Kratzer took up code.org’s challenge and brought their Hour of Code project into the Los Alamos school system.
“We need to get kids interested at a young age, especially the girls,” he said. “When they get to high school or college, it’s too late to interest them in computers. The boys like the shoot ‘em up games and the girls say they don’t like that and they leave.”
The weeklong program is simple, easy to follow and can be even accessed from home at code.org. On the site, would-be coders can access a set of exercises that just involve moving graphic blocks of Javascript code that when arranged right, successfully operate a computer game on the left side of the screen. The website also features exercises in phone app building and other software games.
“The program (code.org) has worked on for the past five months is attractive to all ages,” Kratzer said.
Upon completion of the program students get a special certificate commemorating their completion of the program as well as encouragement to keep exploring code further.
Many Los Alamos schools are participating this week, including Piñon and Chamisa Elementary schools.
According to Debbie Smith, the principal of Chamisa, Hour of Code fits in nicely to the school system’s academic values, including Common Core.
“This is all about teaching them perseverance, problem solving, and collaboration, which is all about Common Core,” she said. “They also learn that it’s okay to try something, test it, change it then retry, which allows them to understand that whole process that scientists and engineers go through.”
Jill Gonzales, principal at Piñon, said Hour of Code has unlocked this mystery and the students are discovering that they can create everything from a simple rectangle to animation.
According to the group’s website, “code.org”, their goals are simple, but far-reaching.
“Our vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer programming,” said a statement on iys Web site. “We believe computer science should be part of the core curriculum in education, alongside other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry and algebra.”
Other goals of the group include:
• Bringing computer science classes to every K-12 school in the United States, especially in urban and rural neighborhoods.
• Demonstrating the successful use of online curriculum in public school classrooms
• Changing policies in all 50 states to categorize computer science as part of the math/science “core” curriculum
• Harnessing the collective power of the tech community to celebrate and grow C.S. education worldwide.
• To increase the representation of women and students of color in the field of computer science.