The students at Southern High School started their own coding club. Kids in Aiyana King’s AP Calculus class wanted to get others involved in computer science, so they reached out to math and tech classes in the school. Now, they learn about computer programming every week.
Most weeks, King has five to 10 students meet for the club. It’s a pretty diverse group, but most are interested in game development. King brings in computer programmers from many different industries, and the students are starting to connect with them. After one demonstration by a technical architect for a local healthcare company, one junior said she wanted to do that job for a living.
Another student is on the college search, and Southern’s Coding Club has helped her realize her ambitions. “She wants to go into game development, and this is shaping her interests and where she is thinking about going to school.” King said.
Most of the very interested and dedicated students will probably stick with their plans to enter the computer science world. But King’s biggest concern — and the biggest concern of computer science education advocates around the world — is how to get more students interested in coding.
The power of ‘Hour of Code’
The organization’s campaign Hour of Code teaches anyone — from age six to 96 — the basics of writing a computer program in just one hour by having them code a game. There are many free tutorials in several coding languages, and they’re compatible with smartphones, tablets, and computers. The one-hour tutorials are available in more than 30 languages.
More than 20,000 teachers used Hour of Code within a few months of this event last year. About 10 million girls total have participated in 2013. There have been almost 69,000 Hour of Code events around the world.
Getting teachers to host events is a huge part of Code.org’s larger mission to get computer science education in every school.
Nationally, there will be more than a million computer science jobs by 2020. But less than 2.4% of students graduate with a degree in the field. Nine out of 10 schools offer computer programming classes, and only a small fraction of schools offer Advanced Placement computer science courses, according to Code.org. Women and minorities are very underrepresented in all of these already small numbers.
Code.org has partnered with more than 30 school districts around the country to address these issues. Kentucky is one of the states working closely with Code.org at the grassroots level to support the larger coding movement through Kentucky Coders, an initiative to register one million coding events this year in the state.
Only 34 schools in the state offer computer science courses. But now, Kentucky is one of 25 states in the US that allows students to count computer science towards high school graduation. That’s important because there are more than 3,600 open computing jobs in Kentucky — right now.
“Hour of Code is a wonderful platform to use because it is so well done,” said Joanne Lang, executive director of Advance Kentucky, a math-science initiative associated with the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation that works to expand advance placement programs in schools.
“It’s a good public awareness campaign. It’s self-organizing and an organic way of bringing together people who I know are interested in this, and then building capacity,” Lang said. “There’s interested people out there, and it’s congealing a little bit.”
That’s not enough, Lang said. But it has generated a lot of interest throughout the last year that is gaining momentum to head into 2015.
Kentucky has 400 events scheduled from organizers around the state for this year’s Computer Science Education Week. Kentucky Coders has seen growth since Ideafestival, an annual conference in Louisville, Kentucky that is focused on innovation and big ideas. The organization launched its public awareness campaign at this year’s conference in September.
Lang is working with organizations around the state and the state government to get more computer science education in Kentucky schools. The Kentucky Department of Education has worked to get more people certified to teach the courses and is figuring out what computer science counts for towards high school graduation.
Advance Kentucky has also started to introduce “AP Computer Science Principles,” a course that focuses on the benefits and theories of programming as an easier on-ramp to other courses in the field.
But of course, a lot of the responsibility lies with teachers around the state, like King, who run coding and computer science clubs to get students excited — but more importantly, to prepare them for the digital world they will enter once they graduate. In particular, she is thrilled about the portfolios the students are developing. They are getting a head start to break into the programming world.
“Our hardware classes are fantastic, but so much of the world is moving towards needing the logic that comes from learning to code – no matter what field you work in. Being able to adapt to multiple software programs, and understanding how they work is a very powerful skill.”
By the beginning of Computer Science Education Week last year, 38,000 people had signed up to participate in Hour of Code. By the Thursday before the week this year, 66,000 organizations had signed up. About 12,000 of those were in the four days prior.
Five million students participated in one week last year, and for 2014, Code.org wants to double that number. But they’ve set their sights much higher than that. The organization has a goal of 100 million people participating in Hour of Code by the end of 2014. That may sound ridiculous, but they’re well on their way — already, cumulatively, 51 million people have completed Hour of Code.
“Everything is just bigger…teachers had really good experiences, so they’re going bigger and recruiting whole schools,” said Roxanne Emadi, III for Code.org.
Last year, Apple did an hour-long workshop in every one of their retail stores in the US. This year, they’re offering them worldwide, with multiple workshops in each location and other events like panels. Microsoft is also offering workshops in some of its stores and promoting it online.
Code.org as a whole has a more global approach this year, Emadi said. They’ve partnered with several international organizations and countries like Italy, UK, and Brazil have started their own chapters.
“Everyone is connected and everyone is constantly using technology, and the fact our students aren’t learning or building or understanding it besides using it resonates with people worldwide,” Emadi said.