I am sure you’ve heard of the Hour of Code. Wait, you haven’t? OMG, I have to get you up to speed! Here, read this:
The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. One-hour tutorials are available in over 40 languages. No experience needed. Ages 4 to 104.
Ok, so I didn’t write that, I just stole it from the Hour of Code website. Can you blame me? We just have an hour! Oh, wait, I’m being told that the Hour can be many hours, and it can even go all year long, not just this week. Sweet! fist pump high kick
Several of us at Skookum have been looking forward to the HoC (I shortened it b/c that’s wot nerdz do. In fact, if I wanted to, I could reduce the rest of this article to (ɔ◔‿◔)ɔ ♥, but I don’t want to lose any of you) like some kind of Super Nerd Holiday Recruiting Event (SNRE, pronounced sah-nuh-ree). We were a part of the Charlotte team of the SNRE, and there were many of us. Even so, the territory that we had to cover was enormous. How were we going to reach all the Nerd Candidates (NCs)? Will our message of code and geekery be heard by all the peoples? DO WE HAVE ENOUGH CAT VIDEOS (veows)??
OK, OK, so we panicked a bit. Thank goodness one of us was doing the Ice Bucket Challenge and was shocked back to lucidity. Also, we realized that there were always MORE than enough veows.
So, we cut up the assigned recruitment area and set off on our scooters to spread the good word of nerd. These are our stories. Law and Order sound
Glenn: Class Wide Web (CWW)
My stop was Park Road Montessori. I visited two classes: Mr. Curt’s and Ms. Christy’s. Both of these classes are "Upper Elementary" (UE), which means grades 4-6. These kids were savvy. They immediately knew that I was a nerd, simply by identifying the binary code on my shirt. Some of the kids also said that I "look like a nerd", which I took as a compliment.
The HoC session focused on how the internet works (My working subtitle was: "How veows get from the cats to you."). The kids talked about how they use the Internet, which was mostly for research and learning, by which they meant "video games." There were mentions of Facebook, Netflix, Google, and, of course, CoolMathGames. My aims were to try and give the kids some idea of the techinical pieces of browsing the web through a series of questions:
Question: "How does the Internet know where Google is?"
Answers from the kids:
- "Everyone knows where Google is. Duh."
- "What does your shirt say?"
- "Can you ‘hack’?"
Although these were all fine guesses, the kids learned that every site on the Internet gets an address, an IP Address, to be more precise. The class talked about what an Internet address looks like and how randomly typing IP Addresses into your browser can lead to things that no one wants, like viruses and the Macarena.
Question: "How does a domain, like ‘www.skookum.com’ turn into an address?"
Answers from the kids:
- "Is it forged in the heat of the FireFox?"
- "Can you do the Macarena?"
- "What does Skookum mean?"
More fine guesses, followed by the introduction of the "Address Server." The Address Server is a magical being that all websites must register with before they can receive requests for veows. Comparisons to the Postal Service helped drive the points home, allowing the kids to focus more on what "Skookum" means. ("Is it what the Panthers do to other teams? Skook them?")
An exercise seemed in order to really compile the concept into their minds. One child was selected to be an "Address Server," and the rest of the class was split into users and websites. Each website had to register with the Address Server by writing their domain/address on a piece of paper alongside their host (their first name, in this case)
The users were then shown what websites were available, and encouraged to create a request to one of the sites. A "request" was a folded piece of paper with the website address ("google.com") on the outside and the data ("CAT VIDEOS!") on the inside. Each also had a string. Here’s how the process went:
- A user hands their request to the Address Server.
- The Address Server looks at the address and finds the host (kid).
- The Address Server then takes one end of the string to the host (the user is holding the other end).
- Repeat for all users.
At the end, what we had was a real, honest-to-goodness web that spanned the classroom. A Class Wide Web, if you will.
The kids had a great time making this web. I, exhausted and still nerdy looking, returned to the Space Volcano (SV), confident that my recruitment efforts had born fruit.
Blake: What is Old is New Again
I presented to four 5th grade classes at Smithfield Elementary. Coincidentally, I was in 5th grade when I purchased a book on computing and robotics at the school book fair. The concept of computer technology was still somewhat vague to me then, as I had never seen a computer. It would be fair to say that the most high-tech piece of equipment in my school at the time was the Mimeograph machine, which produced student worksheets. Who remembers mimeograph? Has this post given away the fact that I’m old? Hey you kids, get off my lawn! Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. This book purchase would forever change my life, as it both opened my eyes to the world of computer programming, and cemented my future firmly within the world of technology.
Upon entering Smithfield Elementary, I could see technology almost everywhere I looked. There was a computerized visitor registration system complete with a camera and printer. There were smartboards in the classrooms, and every student had a Chromebook on their desk. This was a far cry from the elementary schools of my childhood, and I was excited to see how this exposure to technology impacted the students.
While I have given many talks throughout my career, I’ve never presented to an audience like this. I was curious to see how the kids would react and equally eager to learn from the experience.
I really wanted the students to understand what “code” is all about, so I posed the question, “what is a computer?” to get the conversation started. Initially there were lots of varied answers, ranging from a device to get on the Internet, to something that you can watch YouTube videos on, and a video game platform. Within a minute, the kids quickly aligned around the idea that computers are simply electronic devices that help solve problems.
We talked about the types of problems that early computers were built to solve, and how they have evolved over the years. I also shared some thoughts on where computers could go in the next few years and emphasized that the students themselves could be involved in this next phase of computer evolution.
I explained that while computers were designed to solve problems, they need instructions and rules for HOW to solve these problems. These instructions and rules are referred to as algorithms, and are written in a programming language that the computer can understand. Showing some "Hello World" code snippets in a few different programming languages helped illustrate the concept.
Next, we did an exercise to really drive the point home. Using simple rules and commands, we taught the computer how to brush teeth. The students outlined a process for finding a toothbrush and toothpaste all the way to flashing a clean, healthy smile.
We repeated the exercise, this time focusing on making a pizza. We taught the computer how to make a pepperoni, mushroom, sausage, bacon, olive, chicken wing, anchovy, and breadstick pizza (Yep. I think I hear Pizza Hut calling for the rights to this new creation.)
Afterwards, I opened it up for Q&A. There were a lot of great questions, but the two that really stuck with me were:
- Why should we care about coding?
- How does coding affect you?
These kids are in fifth grade and are already thinking about concepts such as how coding affects you. Take a moment and think about that.
I certainly learned a lot from the experience; and the students were definitely eager to learn more about code. It made me think about myself at that age and how my world was changed forever by simply learning something new.
Chris: Great Rise
My mission was to present to Great Falls Elementary. Great Falls is a Title 1 school, so I really wanted to show students that there are careers in technology that are just as attainable as any other career. In short, I wanted the students of Great Falls to have a Great Rise around technology.
I met with kids from Kindergarten through grade 5. For the younger kids, the focus was on how a computer works, along with the process of functional steps through critical thinking. The kids really picked up on the critical thinking bit, asking questions like, "Do I have to go to school for this?" and, "You play games all day?" I explained to the kids that it’s OK to fail, as it forces you to think more about the solution to the problem.
Online programming problems were next, such as Google’s Santa Tracker, which gave kids puzzles to solve logically. This project also introduced them to loops and how to get a task to repeat over and over again so they did not have to keep dragging in multiple examples. Throughout the coding examples, I did my best to answer questions like, "How much money can I make playing games, like you?"
For the older classes, I really wanted to show real code, which I compared to creating a recipe. Getting the kids to walk through actual recipes that they knew how to make really got the point across. While there were many yummy (and odd) recipes, the best example was chicken salad. Several of the children did not really know what went into chicken salad (and really, who does?) Walking through the ingredients and combining them based on a recipe demonstrated that critical thinking is used everywhere.
Lastly, I facilitated an Hour of Code event with several parents. In that session, I opened up a web page to show the parents the code that makes the page. This is generally very eye opening and typically confuses those that see it for the first time. This is where I like to dive in to an editor, starting with a basic HTML layout in Sublime text and build out a simple page in a browser. By the end of the hour, I had shown how easy it is to create a simple website based on something they are passionate about. Finally, I showed the parents several different coding resources to use with their kids. The goal for parents is to spend time with their kids playing interactive games, and encouraging them to try new things.
I truly enjoy removing the barriers of technology to those that are new to it, which is what the HoC is all about.
The End. Or is it?
One of Skookum’s ongoing objectives is involvement in the community. From programs like Night Shift and Giving Tuesday to hosting open Tech Talks to the Hour of Code, Skookum continues to help technology reach more people. The Hour of Code is a great idea and shows the thirst today’s students and parents have for learning about programming. If you are a technical person and so inclined, reach out to your local schools and find a way to share your knowledge. The feeling is better than watching veows.