Week-long ‘Hour of Code’ campaign lures millions of U.S. students to computer coding

December 12, 2013

Millions of students from kindergarten through 12th grade are learning computer code this week as part of “Hour of Code,” a nationwide campaign embraced by President Obama and featuring free tutorials by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft titan Bill Gates that are designed to get U.S. students interested in computer science.

Through its Web site, Hour of Code offers lessons in computer coding that are aimed at every age group and accessible on a range of devices, from tablets to desktops. Entire schools have been holding Hour of Code sessions. Students also have been logging on at home. Both Apple and Microsoft have been hosting free Hour of Code sessions at their retail stores across the country.

The lessons teach the basics of computer coding, are highly interactive and do not require fast broadband connections.

“Don’t just buy a new video game — make one,” Obama urges in a video he recorded on behalf of the campaign. “Don’t just download the latest app — help design it. Don’t just play on your phone — program. No one’s born a computer scientist, but with a little hard work — and some math and science — just about anyone can become one.”

Schools throughout the Washington area have been holding “Hour of Code” sessions. D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson planned to write code Friday with some students from McKinley Tech High School.

By late Thursday, more than 11 million students in 167 countries had taken a tutorial, said Hadi Partovi of Code.org, a nonprofit organization he founded with his brother, Ali, to encourage computer science in education. Of the participating students, about two-thirds were from the United States, Partovi said.

That means one out of every six U.S. students has written computer code this week as a result of the project, he said.

Partovi estimates that at least 15 million students will have taken a coding course through Hour of Code by the end of this week, a remarkable debut for an idea hatched five months ago and evidence of a thirst for knowledge in a country where nine of 10 public schools do not teach computer science, he said.

“We know that deep in their heart, Americans feel that technology is moving super fast, and they’re afraid their kids are going to get left behind,” he said. “It’s important to keep teaching biology and chemistry. But in this century, learning how the Internet works, what an algorithm does, is as foundational as those other subjects. Not to mention, it also leads to the best jobs in the country.”

More than half of the participating students by late Thursday were girls, which surprised Partovi. “Two days ago, the number of girls doing computer science in this country was 18 percent,” he said.

The $1 million project is funded by Microsoft, LinkedIn, Google and a number of other corporate sponsors, as well as through donations from Gates and Zuckerberg.

In addition to the president, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) made videos promoting Hour of Code, as did actors Ashton Kutcher and Angela Bassett, singer Shakira and National Basketball Association player Chris Bosh.

The tutorials will remain available to the public after this week, Partovi said. “If you did the first hour, there are 20 more hours of tutorials you can do,” he said.

The Partovi brothers, Silicon Valley digital entrepreneurs and investors, have been lobbying school districts to teach computer science and states to require computer science as a core subject. So far, six states have committed to requiring instruction in computer science, Hadi Partovi said.

On Monday, New York City announced a partnership with Code.org to hire 120 computer science teachers for its high schools, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said that he would make computer science a core requirement for high school students and that his city would become the nation’s first urban system to offer computer courses for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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