Saturday, May 28, 2016

Getting Started with Hour of Code

Have you heard of "Hour of Code?" It is an incredible world wide initiative which aims to give every child the opportunity to learn how to write computer code. There are events all over the world where children are given access to computers and coding games or lessons so they can try out coding. I first heard about it a couple of years ago when Bill Gates was talking about the importance of preparing kids for a future in computer related careers. As a mom of a boy with a talent for anything computerized, I was intrigued by this and started looking into it. I now not only have coding apps on my iPad at home for my boys to use (and I won't lie - I've tried them out too), but I have also introduced coding web pages to my students at school.

Coding is a good alternative to other screen time activities (games, videos, t.v.), because it promotes critical thinking and problem solving. Instead of just moving a ball from here to there (for example), they have to figure out what code to write to make that ball move. What do you have to do to make it go up, down, left, and right? There is a lot of trial and error involved, which teaches both patience and follow through. The videos and tutorials that are out there are incredibly easy to follow, even for my 6 year old. The bottom line is, coding teaches a SKILL and one that transfers to a lot more than finishing a game.

Hour of Code
A good place to start is Not only does it explain the initiative, it also gives links to coding events if you are interested in participating. The best part of this website is that it has coding activities that are  useful for kids as young as 4 years old! It starts with simple mouse exercise (drag and drop), and works up to Star Wars droid, Frozen programming with Anna and Elsa, or a Design Your Own App Lab for kids 13 years or older. Honestly, if you want to get your own child started with coding (or even if you want to learn yourself), you probably don't need to go any further than this website right here. If you're interested in understanding the research or motivation behind this initiative, there are plenty of videos, and narratives from people who know far more than I do on this subject. For a direct link to all the FREE coding courses, go straight to the coding studio, here. 

Game Menu in the Code Studio

Added Bonus: Want to introduce coding to your classroom but aren't excited about more screen time? also offers a section that provides "unplugged" coding lessons! As someone who is fascinated by the whole idea of algorithms (did I just give away my geek side? (or maybe that's happening because I'm writing an article about computer coding)), I cannot wait to try some of these lessons with my math class. The link to this section is right here.

Another Added Bonus: Under many of the games, there is a "For Teachers" section.
You can get to Tynker from the Code website above. The big difference between the two is that in addition to their free games (look for the tab at the top right), Tynker also sells programming packages. Each of their games comes with a step by step tutorial and everything has a recommended age group (ages 7-14). There is also a Tynker app that includes 50 free starter games.

Added Bonus: Educator Features!

Screenshot from Tynker Web Page

Khan Academy
I've been using Khan Academy in my classroom for the last couple of years for independent math work for students. It was actually a parent of one of my students who pointed out that they also offer free Hour of Code classes, and before long, I had students testing that out too. The website is incredible easy to use either at home or in the classroom. There aren't as many options as but there are enough to get you started. Several of my students have tried the Drawing with Code (recommended for ages 8 and up), but there are also webpage design courses (recommended age 8 and up) and database design courses for more advanced programmers (ages 12 and up). Many of the directions are text only which means these courses are for readers. Still, it's worth a look if you're just getting started.

Screenshot from webpage showing easy to use format.

For Teachers: Students can earn energy points if they create an account. Teachers and parents can then see students' progress. They have to have an email address to be able to do this, so check your district's policy on this. The best way to play it safe is to get parent permission before signing up.

Lightbot: Code Hour
Lightbot is my personal favorite because this is the one that my own 6 year old absolutely loves, and to watch him work his way through these puzzles is amazing. Lightbot is both a webpage and a free app. It's recommended for grades K-12. Programmers get to test their skills by programming their way through puzzles in a video game. They have to try to get "Lightbot" to light up tiles in order to pass each level. The first 20 levels are free but you can get up to 50.  The most basic concepts of sequencing and loops are all a part of this game. Kids are actually going inside the video game and trying different ways to make the level work. If you have a kid who is already computer knowledgeable, this game would be a great place to start in the coding world.

Screenshot of level 1 FREE Lightbot App

So there you have it... My very abbreviated rundown of Hour of Code. I hope it helps you get started with coding!

 Disclaimer: I blog for fun. These are my opinions and no one paid me to think these thoughts. Feel free to leave comments, but if they are mean I will probably delete them because there is enough mean in the world.


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