Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Code-a-rific! Embracing the Hour of Code Challenge.

Hanukkah has passed.  Now we are anxiously awaiting Christmas and Kwanzaa, but hold the presses!  It's Computer Science Education Week!!!  Feels a little like Christmas to me.  The highlight of the December 9 - 15 festivities is the Hour of Code Challenge.  Students across the world are committing to code for an hour this week.  From my experience, it seems like the hour of code is turning into the many hours of coding.  Regardless, everyone who participates is getting an opportunity to be exposed to coding and essentially demystifying Computer Programming.  This is a wonderful opportunity as hearing the words coding or programming can be very intimidating.  The activities offered this week are surely proving otherwise.

There are a number of heavy hitters involved in helping promote the event including, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Elena Silenok (, Bill Gates (Microsoft), Gabe Newell (Valve), Will.I.Am (The Black Eyed Pees),  Chris Bosh (Miami Heat), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Barack Obama, and many others.  These influential folks have been kind enough to help create instructional videos, public service announcements, etc. to help promote the event.

The point of entry to participate is quite simple.  Organizations like have set up turn-key opportunities to guide students through hours of coding including online and offline activities.  You can sign up as an individual student or as a teacher.  Teachers can provide students with the course code so that it is easy to manage their progress through the activities.  Students earn a certificate from many organizations based on completing an hours worth of coding activities.  The activities use activities created in blockly, a programming environment developed by google that is based on Scratch.

Tynker, also based on Scratch is offering a variety of activities for students in grades 1 through 8.  Tynker also allows teachers to set up a class with a class code for students to join.  Again, this helps greatly with managing student progress.

Lightbot is a puzzle game that teaches programming and procedural thinking.  They are offering activities for the week that come with a certificate of completion as well.  My 10 year old was up pretty late last night 'playing' lightbot and learning coding without knowing it!  Lightbot has an app available at the iOS app store as well as the google play store.  This is definitely a great option for students in elementary school.

One of my favorites is Codecademy, which really does focus on true coding (opposed to the drag and drop block approach) but in a very systematic fashion that makes following and learning to program easy.  Codecademy offers tracks in JavaScript, PHP, Python, Ruby, and other programming languages.  You could create a full semester course (or more) using the Codecademy environment.

There are certainly other companies and organizations offering their approach.  Please visit the Computer Science Education Week site for more ideas and lesson plans.

While I'm at it, here's a pearltree I put together a while back to highlight coding resources for grades K - 12. and the associated sponsors are even offering prizes for students who earn the 27 available trophies.  So far, two of my students at William Annin Middle School have reached this goal.  Prizes include a choice of software titles (Sim City 4, Portal 2, Fifa 13), $10 gift cards (iTunes, Skype), 10gb dropbox storage, etc.  One school in each of the 50 states will receive a classroom set of computers for having every student participate.  All teachers who have a class participate will receive 10gb additional drop box storage and several lucky schools will receive a guest skype session from one of the industry 'titans'.

Well, what are you waiting for?  Join in the celebration.  and Happy Computer Science Education Week!

Code on!!!