Hour of Codeteaching
An hour might not seem like enough time to teach anybody anything about coding, and for the most part, that’s true. But you can teach the basics of what computer science is, and give students a familiarity with a subject that they previously didn’t know anything about. It’s also a low-stakes way to dip your toes into computer science.
The Hour of Code is organized by Code.org as a way to get more people involved in programming- especially people who might not consider themselves “typical” computer scientists. The “official” Hour of Code takes place during Computer Science Education Week in December, but you can try it out any time!
And it works. Here is just one stat from Code.org:
And I think this makes sense. It’s hard to be interested in something if you have no idea what it is.
- Before: “I don’t know what programming is. Doesn’t it involve a lot of ones and zeroes and math? So no, I’m not interested.”
- After: “Now I know what code looks like, and I even know how to make my own simple program, and where to go if I want to learn more!”
Computer Science Education Week
The CS Ed Week website contains a ton of resources:
- Tutorials arranged by grade level, difficulty (for both you and the students), what types of computers (if any) you have access to (yes you can learn how to code without a computer!), topics, etc. Most of these only take one hour!
- Videos and posters of famous people (like Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerburg) talking about code, which you can use to get students excited about programming.
- More info about why teaching computer science is so important.
Hour of Code
A ton of organizations were inspired by CS Ed Week and decided to create their own Hour of Code tutorials. Here are a few that use Processing:
- hello.processing.org is Processing’s “official” hour of code.
- Khan Academy has resources for students, teachers, and parents.
- I wrote Happy Coding’s Hour of Code for people who prefer written tutorials over video tutorials.
So, if you’re a teacher, I’d recommend trying out a few of the Hour of Code tutorials and seeing what would work best for your students and classroom environment.
If it was me teaching, I would walk through Happy Coding’s Hour of Code using some simple slides and the Processing editor projected onto a screen, and with any remaining time I’d either have students draw their own scenes, or I’d walk through an example program (maybe chosen by the students) together.
The idea behind doing an Hour of Code is not to turn students into expert coders. It’s to demystify computer science and take it from something they only see portrayed as difficult or mathy or nerdy, and into something that they understand, that they can do something with. With that in mind, I’d suggest the following general tips:
Start out by showing examples of stuff that can be made with code. There are obvious examples like making apps and websites like Facebook and Snapchat (I hear that’s what the kids are using these days) and games like Angry Birds and Minecraft. But consider focusing on non-obvious stuff like:
- Digital art. I really like Aaron Koblin, and a lot of his stuff is done in Processing!
- Science. From systems designed to diagnose illness to models that help us understand evolution. Fun fact: Processing was created by an artist and a scientist working on the Human Genome Project!
- Social outreach. From visualizing data that highlights a social problem, to getting people in contact during an emergency.
- Check out Made with Code, a website by Google that showcases non-obvious things code can do.
The idea is to show students that code can be used to solve whatever problems they’re already interested in.
Make it interactive. Instead of saying “here’s how we’d change the color to red”, ask the students what color we should use. You could randomly call on students, but I’d make sure the questions are general enough to not make anybody feel dumb.
Roll with the mistakes that you (the teacher) will make. If the students choose purple, but you aren’t quite sure how to make purple, that’s great! It might take you a few tries to figure out what combination of RGB makes purple, and that’s perfect! That’s exactly how real programming works. This is what I call the Bob Ross approach to coding: coding is just as much an art as it is a science, and it involves making a ton of mistakes. So I think it’s important to show students that making mistakes is normal. Forgotten semicolons, using the wrong order for RGB, taking a few tries to get that circle to draw exactly where you want it (and maybe realizing it looks better somewhere else), that’s all part of the process. Embrace it!
End with pointing to the next steps the students could take. Point them to this website (can’t blame a guy for shamelessly self-promoting), or to whatever makes the most sense for your students. Follow up the Hour of Code with lab time if you can, and give students ideas for things they could create!