Participate in the Hour of Code to Learn Programming Basics

December 8–14 marks Computer Science Education week in the United States. Get started with a beginners’ tutorial called Hour of Code.

By far, the most popular costume at my son’s school Halloween parade this year was Elsa, the Disney princess from the movie “Frozen.”

The folks at Code.org knew what they were doing when they recruited Elsa and her sister Princess Anna — yes, my boys enjoyed the movie, too — to spark interest in computer programming.

Dec 8–14, 2014 has been designated Computer Science Education Week in the U.S., and it gets people coding around the globe with its Hour of Code event.

The idea is to generate interest in learning to write code by getting kids to try out a tutorial for one hour anytime during that week. The material is geared specifically toward kids from age four going up to high school, but it is open to anyone who wants to learn about coding. If you don’t have time to complete an hourlong class during Computer Science Education Week, you can also use the tutorials the week after Hour of Code.

Who’s behind it?

Hour of Code is organized by Code.org, a non-profit organization that seeks to bring computer science education into mainstream school curricula in the U.S.

Hour of Code is supported by President Barack Obama, as well as notable figures in the software, entertainment, and sports industries. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Usher, Ashton Kutcher, and NASCAR driver J.R. Hildebrand, among others, will conduct 15-minute video Q&As with 100 participating classrooms across the country.

When Hour of Code was first launched in December 2013, 15 million students worldwide signed up for it. Many classrooms around the world will participate this year, as well. If you or your children are interested in the tutorial, you can sign up with others as a group or participate individually.

Why should kids learn to code?

There is a growing demand for jobs in technology. According to research conducted by Code.org, there will be one million more computer programming jobs than qualified computer science students by the year 2020.

Additionally, Mitch Resnick, head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT’s Media labs and the creator of the Scratch programming site, presented compelling reasons for kids learning to code in his 2012 Ted Talk. He explained that coding can help children learn how to:

  • Break down complex problems into digestible steps.
  • Work collaboratively with others. For example, many tools like the Scratch programming website allow kids to share and learn from each other’s projects.
  • Express their creativity through graphical and audio programming tools.
  • Cultivate the ability to participate actively in technology, as opposed to being passive consumers.

President Obama is a strong advocate of teaching kids to code, and governments of other nations, such as Estonia and the U.K., have introduced coding into their national school curricula.

How can kids learn to code?

Last year my kids, then five and eight years old, took the Hour of Code tutorial featuring the Angry Birds and a funny zombie character roaming a maze. They loved it and begged for more.

If you think your children might be interested in learning more about computer science, there are many resources they can use. Code.org has a 20-hour tutorial that can be used to learn core computer science and programming concepts.

You can also try out various apps and online sites that teach programming skills. Below are some programs your kids can explore. All the apps feature visual drag-and-drop blocks of code so that kids don’t need to know complex programming language syntax.

Daisy the Dinosaur

This is a very simple introduction to programming concepts for kids five years and older. The drag-and-drop blocks of code have commands that make Daisy the Dinosaur jump, roll, and perform various other actions across the screen. There’s also a challenge mode that allows kids to complete an assortment of tasks. The app does require kids to be able to read simple words. Both my children enjoyed playing with Daisy, although the number of things she can do is limited, and they soon ran out of challenges. This is a great first step to programming.

Cost: Free, iPad app

Hopscotch

From the makers of Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch is meant for kids ages 9 to 14. Users can create projects, games, and animated characters using different programming constructs. Hopscotch has an introductory video and a tutorial to help first-timers. My 8-year-old enjoyed stretching his newfound programming skills with it, though there were times when it got too challenging for him.

Cost: Free, iPad and iPhone app

Lightbot

In this game, users must help a robot light up different segments of a puzzle. Kids learn programming skills as they move up the challenge levels. The app has junior version for ages 4 to 8 and a regular version for ages 9+. The makers of Lightbot are participating in the Hour of Code and offering a free one-hour tutorial.

Cost: $2.99 for iPad/iPhone app, $2.72 for Android version

Tynker

Tynker.com offers $50 interactive online courses for beginner, intermediate, and advanced programmers. The courses are meant for students from first grade up through high school. The iPad app has more than 200 puzzles that introduce programming concepts. At the more advanced levels, kids can create their own games and apps by using tools such as a Physics engine, an Animation studio, and a Character studio. Tynker is offering a free app to try out for the Hour of Code.

Cost: $5.99 iPad app

Scratch

The Scratch programming website caters to users ages 8 to 16, but it can be utilized by anyone. It has guides to learn how to program with Scratch as well as a vast library of projects shared by Scratch users.

Websites such as codecademy and Khan Academy offer free tutorials for older kids and adults to learn advanced programming languages such as JavaScript, HTML, Databases, Python, PHP, and more.

No matter your age, there is a wealth of resources available for free or at a reasonable cost. You only need an hour to get started!

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