The Hour of Code – how my six year old learned to program a computer

CODE Logo for the Hour of CodeI haven’t talked about it here yet, but this term the geekdaddy has started doing some voluntary work at the geekdaughter’s school. He is running an after-school Code Club, which is aimed at teaching 9-11 year olds how to program computers. The geekdaddy gives an hour a week of his time, Code Club provide the lesson plans and materials, and the school makes their facilities available. Code Club is a national programme run by volunteers, and the geekdaddy recently attended a regional meetup of volunteers and got to meet a selection of other people running clubs in the area. It seems like it was a great forum for sharing ideas, and one of the things the geekdaddy learned about while he was there was an American project called The Hour of Code.

The Hour of Code is trying to address the problem in America where not enough kids are learning to code. Nine out of ten schools in the US don’t provide any kind of computer programming classes, and current estimates are that there will be 1 million more computing jobs than computing students by 2020. Now I don’t know how the figures compare here in the UK, but we’re not usually that different to the US. When he signed up to run his Code Club the geekdaddy has also enrolled as a STEM Ambassador – another great UK programme where people who work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) areas volunteer their time to provide specialist knowledge to schools when they need it. And from what we’ve seen so far there is a lot of demand from UK schools looking to get help in these areas by people working in the field.

So where does the Hour of Code come in? Well, two brothers, Hadi and Ali Partovi, decided they wanted to do something about the lack of programming skills in the States and beyond. And somehow they managed to get a lot of the major players in the IT industry to back them, both financially and by taking part in their project. Their project is simple enough – produce a free tutorial that takes about an hour to complete and teaches the very basics of programming in a simple and fun way. They got people like Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook), Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft) and a host of other people to record messages for the kids about how important programming is. They got the rights to use characters from Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies in their coding exercises so the kids could play with characters they recognised. They got their website all ready, and they launched it last week, to coincide with Computer Science Education Week.

Here’s their official introduction video – you’ll spot a few famous faces in there:

The response has been incredible. In just one week 15 million students across 170 countries completed the Hour of Code. One in five students in the US have completed the Hour of Code. And more girls participated in computer science in US schools during that one week than they have done in the last 70 years (source).

It is completely jaw-dropping.

Last week the geekdaughter was off school for a couple of days due to being poorly, and I had to leave the geekdaddy in charge whilst I went off to work as usual. He took the opportunity to work through the Hour of Code with her. He tells me that he helped her by reading the instructions, and sometimes by operating the mouse (she’s more of a touchscreen girl!), but it was all her own work. And she understood it. She got it. And she’s already asking to do more. We’re both so proud.

My daughter completes the Hour of Code

Since then I’ve worked through some of the Hour of Code myself, and I think it’s a great resource. If you’ve got kids who are at all interested in computing, or heck if you yourself are interested then give it a go. You don’t need any specialist knowledge – everything is clearly explained, and if you can operate a web browser you can do it. In fact there are even iOS and Android options if you don’t have access to a web browser, or would prefer to learn on those devices. So why not give it a go? When else will you get the chance to have people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg teach you to code?

And once you’ve completed the Hour of Code there are even more tutorials on the site for you or your kids to continue your learning. Such a great resource!

We’ve also discovered that here in the UK the Raspberry Pi Foundation are giving away 1,000 free Raspberry Pis to schools whose students complete the Hour of Code before the end of term. So the geekdaddy went into the geekdaughter’s school on Monday to help run an extra-ordinary Code Club session where he tried to get his Code Club kids to complete the Hour of Code. Fourteen of them did, so we’re hoping that might earn the school some Raspberry Pis too :). And the free Raspberry Pis are not just for schools – individual kids can earn themselves a free Raspberry Pi by designing a poster showing what they think would be a cool Raspberry Pi project (all details are here).

Comments

  1. Alastair says

    My six year old boy programs with me too! It’s our favourite father-son one-on-one activity. Since you wrote this post, the British government have declared their “Year of Code” initiative for 2014, so I imagine you might see it getting more hits soon ;)
    I’m hoping to run a public Hour or Code at my city library in the Easter school holidays – I’m going to have to adapt the material slightly from Code Club – for technical reasons I think we’re going to restrict it to having kids shout out the lines of code which will then be input by a tutor at the front on a single big screen, but they’ll still see the result of their suggestions come alive. Curious to know if you noticed any differences in the way girls/boys approached coding – bits they found more/less interesting/difficult…

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