Hour of Code hopes to teach kids a love of computer programming

An initiative backed by a star-studded ensemble that extends from POTUS to Shakira is encouraging students to try coding for an hour in honor of Computer Science Education Week. Will the message stick?

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Children play on computers after eating a free lunch brought by the bus in Federal Way, Wash, July 15, 2013.

Could you learn to love coding in an hour?

That’s the goal of this year’s Computer Science Education Week’s (CSEW) initiative "Hour of Code," CSEW has been going on since 2009, but this year nonprofit Code.org took over and put the focus on getting kids interested in computer science. The nonprofit recruited the likes of President Obama, Ashton Kutcher, and Mark Zuckerberg to advocate kids spend one hour this week learning code, in hopes of spurring interest in a future increasingly interconnected with computer literacy.

"If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change how we do just about everything," Obama says in a video. "Don't just buy a new video game, make one. Don't just download the latest app, help design it. Don't just play on your phone, program it."

The Code.org website has options to spend an hour learning Javascript, computer programs, app programming (both Android and iOS), and even “unplugged” coding, where kids can learn the connection between symbols and actions. Code.org also created curriculum to accompany the day so teachers could add it to a school day. According to the Wall Street Journal, over 70 percent of US schools will participate.

Despite younger generations becoming increasingly tech savvy, computer programming is an area yet to see the same widespread interest when translated to education. The Bureau of Labor estimates the US economy is adding nearly 140,000 computing jobs every year, but only 40,000 college students graduate with a computer science degree, the Wall Street Journal adds.

Though there appears to be an interest from many educators and schools, often basic Internet and computer capabilities can hinder the ability to teach even simple coding lessons. The Atlantic reports that only 39 percent of public schools have wireless access. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that teachers of the lowest income students are 35 percent more likely to say students’ access to digital technologies is a “major challenge” to bringing more digital tools into their classroom than those of the highest income students.

The Hour of Code seems to at least have solved one US problem, at least for the time being: CSEW is one of a few initiatives that has bipartisan support. Eric Cantor, house majority leader, also uploaded a video stressing the importance of learning computer programming, saying, “It is the only way for you to prepare for the future."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.