2015 Hack-a-Thon!

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Last week, I issued a challenge to our third and fourth graders. A big challenge. A big, scary, challenging challenge.

I challenged Johnson’s third and fourth grade students to code and program for 100 hours during the month of December.

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Let’s get some background here. Kids these days are savvy tech users. They can swipe a touch screen and navigate a Google search effortlessly. They’re comfortable around all kinds of devices and aren’t even a little bit intimated big the world wide web. In other words – they know their way around a computer.

But they don’t know how to program one.

Code.org states that there are currently 604,689 computer programming jobs open nationwide. OPEN! Sitting there for the taking! And if that many jobs are unfilled now, imagine how much the number will grow by the time our third and fourth graders hit the work force. In last week’s Family Connection: Code Like a Girl post, I shared this GirlsWhoCode.org fact: with you: The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings. Yet U.S. universities are expected produce only enough qualified graduates to fill 29% of these jobs. 

Coding is a superpower. If you don’t believe me, listen to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg – they’ll tell you. It’s a language and a world and a power, and not all of our kids have access to it. We’re not giving them the tools that they need to be successful in the world because they don’t have computers at home; because internet access is to expensive; because there’s no time to teach them; because they’re just a kid. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about kids during my time teaching, it’s that their passion for knowledge can overcome anything, if they’re given the chance.

So I issued a challenge.

100 hours in three weeks. Students log their time in class exploring Code.org’s resources and games with me and Mr. Jones (Johnson’s amazing, talented, and oh-so-creative Instructional Technology Resource Teacher), but that’s not enough time for them to reach their goal. In order to break 100 hours, they need to keep coding and exploring at home. They’re making Angry Birds fly, programming futuristic Star Wars robots, helping Minecraft’s Steve and Alex build shelter to shield them from the zombies, and making Scratch’s iconic feline sprite dance and turn pink.

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Since hours that students code at home count, I keep the Code-o-Meter in the hallway in the morning so that I can the add kids’ hours as they walk to class. It didn’t take long for our Code-o-Meter to start going up..

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and up…

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and up.
Computer coding and programming teaches invaluable skills like critical thinking, logic, problem solving, sequencing, and growth mindset. It encourages students to take creative risks, learn from their mistakes, pick themselves up and try again. Bigger. Better. Smarter. It helps them to develop the skills that they need to succeed, both in front of the screen and in front of the boardroom.

In the past two weeks, I have seen some of my most shy, quiet, and self-conscious students squeal with delight and jump with victory. They triumphantly announce their tally of code lines (the amazing challenges at Code.org not only tell students how many lines of code they have written, but give the option for students to see it in HTML formatting mode) and celebrate each other’s victories. They’re not playing video games – they’re programming them. Sometimes it’s a statement – “I can CODE!” and sometimes it’s a question – “I can CODE?!”, but no matter what, it’s a victory.

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Third and fourth grade students will be coming home this afternoon with handouts that detail the resources we have been using in class so that they can continue their computer science education at home. If you’d like to see more coding resources, check out the list from last week’s Code Like a Girl post (includes resources for boys, too!). In case your handout doesn’t make it home, here is a list of the main resources that we have used in the classroom over the course of our Hack-a-Thon:

Code.org Angry Birds Maze

Code.org Minecraft

Code.org Star Wars (beginner’s Blockly version; visit here if you’d like to try the more advanced Java script)

Scratch (to get the hang of Scratch,  work your way through the Getting Started with Scratch steps in the window at the right of the screen)

Want to ensure that your kid catches the computer coding bug? Code with them! Coding activities and games are a great way to spend time together. The resources listed above are for hackers of all ages!

Check back soon to see if we reach our Hack-a-Thon goal!

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