I’ve been a proponent for many years of the idea that coding is something that all youth should learn. I firmly believe that, through coding, youth gain a variety of 21st century, college and career readiness, and STEM skills. But, when I hear people talk about Hour of Code, and in December when I saw all the Tweets and Facebook posts and so on about the events being sponsored by libraries, schools, and out of school-time-institutions in honor of Hour of Code, I have to admit, I cringed a bit. Here’s why. It seemed to me that for many of the institutions that I was reading about, the work was being done as a one-time event. And, I don’t believe we can help youth gain the skills that coding activities lead to in an isolated once-a-year program. Hour of Code is a great way to celebrate what learning to code can bring to youth, but it should be the start or middle or end of something bigger. It should not be a one-and-done experience.
This idea is highlighted on the Code.org website on the page titled, What’s the Impact of the Hour of Code. One point really stood out to me on that page when thinking about my “problem” with Hour of Code (bolding and caps added by me):
“The Hour of Code is at its core NOT about learning a brand new skill in just one hour. One hour isn’t enough to learn how to code. It’s about increasing access to computer science by breaking stereotypes and opening doors.”
With that idea in mind, that Hour of Code is not a way to learn a new skill in an hour, I ask, what if libraries and other formal and informal learning organizations focused on Hour of Code as a way to expand and enhance STEM learning and 21st Century Skill development and used the event as a way to celebrate that learning? Or, what if learning organizations participated in Hour of Code as a piece of a broader program focused on skill development and/or college and career readiness? I have some ideas for getting started in expanding/enhancing Hour of Code in these ways:
- Idea 1: Start with a design thinking approach. Instead of focusing on learning to code as the end all and be all of the experience, work with teens on a project that embraces the ideas of design thinking. You could launch the project during Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), when Hour of Code takes place. Or, you could work to wrap CSEdWeek into the project. If you start from a design thinking foundation teens can brainstorm problems they see that they would like to try to solve. They can then go through the design thinking process of researching the problem, talking with others about the problem, brainstorming solutions, prototyping solutions, testing solutions, and so on. Within that process the prototyping or the brainstorming or the research could all include opportunities to learn and use coding. (Check out the film CodeGirl to get some inspiration and see how this process might work.)
- Idea 2: Use CSEdWeek and Hour of Code as a way to celebrate what the teens you’ve been working with have developed within the computer science arena. Why not have a celebration where friends and family members are invited to see the apps, or games, or Minecraft, or Scratch projects teens developed? What about the teens who are programming robots or LittleBits? Why not celebrate their achievements during CSEdWeek? Give teens the chance to show off what they have learned in your learning environment. At the same time show community members the way the library and/or other educational institutions can support computer science learning.
- Idea 3: Consider how CSEdWeek can help you help teens connect with the Next Generation Science Standards and the K-12 Computer Science Standards. This can be a great way to connect with schools and classrooms. Talk with teachers and curriculum specialists about how they are integrating these standards into the work they are doing. Discuss ways that you might work together to build a program that connects these standards with CSEdWeek.
- Idea 4: Speaking of working with schools and classrooms, don’t go it alone. Start thinking about the different organizations, the local school system, local experts, groups in your community, etc. that can work with you on an Hour of Code/CSEdWeek event. What do they think would be a good way to go beyond an hour where teens sit at a computer and do some coding activities? Do they have ideas for a program that could launch during CSEdWeek and/or a program that could celebrate teen learning during CSEdWeek? It’s likely that they can help you and the teens you work with build something that accomplishes what Code.org suggests: “…increasing access to computer science by breaking stereotypes and opening doors.”
- Idea 5: Start now! I know, next year’s CSEdWeek and Hour of Code are many months away (dates haven’t even been announced). But, if you really want to put something together with teens that provides high-quality opportunities for 21st century skill development and STEM learning, then now isn’t too soon to start planning. You might even have the chance to try things out, see what works and doesn’t work, and revise and try again.
Take advantage of the great opportunity that something like Hour of Code provides to libraries and other learning institutions. Show your community how you support STEM and 21st century skill development with and for teens not just during one week but for 12 months a year. Think of Hour of Code and Computer Science Education Week as a way to celebrate and enhance what you do with and for teens in this area. I bet you’ll find that the impact of thinking more broadly and integrating this work more fully will truly be great and have long-term benefits for you and the youth you work with and for.