Prior to presenting Hour of Code lessons in my classroom, and eventually to my entire school, my knowledge of computer programming was limited to knowing it had something to do with ones and zeroes. I understood a lot of work went into constructing the digital world we now rely on, but what that work entailed was hazy at best. In fact, prior to Hour of Code, I didn't know the second week of December was Computer Science Education Week, which is when Hour of Code is held. It was all thanks to a buzz on Twitter that I first heard about Hour of Code’s launch in 2013 and its simple, but powerful, mission: to expose children (and adults!) to one hour of computer science. After a trial run with my class the first year, I dove in headfirst and presented Hour of Code lessons in every class at my pre-kindergarten-through-second-grade school -- and with only a little prep, so can you!
Building Prior Knowledge
You don't need to be a programmer to introduce your students to coding, but it does help to have a little background, and HourofCode.com is the place to start your journey. There you will find a variety of resources on how and why you should host Hour of Code in your classroom or school. Check out the How To tab for a step-by-step process to get started, beginning with signing up to receive free promotional materials and ending with custom printed award certificates.
At Code.org you will also find ample resources to get yourself, your colleagues, and your students jazzed about coding. Dozens of games and lessons are available on a wide range of topics and difficulty levels. Star Wars, Frozen, and Angry Birds (as well as many more) coding activities are ready to inspire your students to try their hand at programming. Each activity can be performed solo, but students also are encouraged to try pair programming to make screen-time learning more social.
Unplugged? No Problem!
My first experience with Hour of Code arrived before a district-wide technology overhaul occurred at my school. To avoid dealing with gathering my class around a desktop monitor to play the same game, I opted for a free, unplugged lesson instead. My Robotic Friends (one of several available from ThinkerSmith) comes complete with downloadable lesson plans and a tutorial video, and it teaches the fundamental concept of programming as a way to "teach" a machine to complete a task -- in this case, stacking plastic cups. In place of computer code and robots, cards with arrows read by a student or teacher not only make the concept accessible to our youngest students, but the lesson is also a blast to teach! Each year I am amazed at the speed with which students not only learn the code but also how eager they are to continue programming during free time.
Bringing Code to "Life"
Want to make the concept of coding a robot even more impactful to further reinforce the power of code? Why not bring some real robots to class? Thanks to help from DonorsChoose.org, this year I will introduce a trio of charismatic robots, each programmed using drag-and-drop code. By using simple text blocks, junior programmers choreograph robotic behavior, all with free apps available on most devices.
The smallest robot programmed with drag-and-drop code is Ozobot 2.0, measuring only an inch in diameter. Ozobots can also be programmed using colored marker on paper, eliminating the need for a screen entirely and injecting a little art into your STEM lesson. Although a bit more pricey, Sphero and Dash are other kid-friendly bots worth considering. In addition to easy programming, both Sphero and Dash can be operated via Bluetooth. Regardless of which robotic friend you choose to bring to class, all are an engaging, hands-on way to energize your students about computer programming well beyond their single hour of coding.
After an Hour of Code, should we expect all students to pursue computer science as a career or hobby? No, of course not. In fact, for the vast majority of students, Hour of Code will be the only time ever spent learning computer science. Instead, our goal is that one hour will be enough to broaden their understanding of how an important aspect of our world works. However, for some students, the early exposure to a rapidly growing and exciting field will open doors they may not have known existed were it not for a stack of cups, playing a game online, or time spent with a pocket-size robot. Hour of Code is a simple way for you to help turn some of those ones and zeros into a meaningful learning opportunity for your students and for yourself.