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Utah News

Hour Of Code Kickstarts Kids' Creativity

Kids coding in their classroom.
Justin Prather
/
Utah Public Radio

Greg Cox’s fourth grade class is walking to their school’s computer lab—they are going to play a computer game.  Parents should not be alarmed, however; this is not a waste of class time.  This game is designed to teach students the basics of computer programming.

Dec. 8-14 was Computer Science Education Week across the country. In partnership with Utah technology company Pluralsight, Gov. Gary Herbert challenged teachers to have their students participate in Hour of Code. This is where the game comes in. Hour of Code is a program of problem-solving puzzles that helps students gradually pick up the fundamentals of coding.

I was able to talk to Joshua, a fourth grader at Ellis Elementary, who explained to me step-by-step a puzzle he was working on.

“The blocks are for you to control the movements of the right bird…”

I watched as Joshua manipulated blocks representing command codes, trying to move a character through a maze.

Some parents caught in the ever-evolving debate about which subjects to include in young students’ curriculum might say computer programing seems too complex for elementary school children.

Aaron Skonnard, co-founder of Pluralsight, said the way technology has advanced and become more integrated into kids’ lives has made it necessary to expose them to how it works.

"Just look at the kids today and how much technology is part of every aspect of their life," Skonnard said. "From the moment they wake up in the morning till the moment they go to bed at night, they are constantly interfacing with technology. Because of that integration with their lives, I believe that it’s quickly becoming a basic form of literacy."

Skonnard said the benefits go beyond learning how to program a computer.

"From the moment they wake up in the morning till the moment they go to bed at night, they are constantly interfacing with technology. Because of that integration with their lives, I believe that it's quickly becoming a basic form of literacy," Skonnard said.

“It actually exercises the crossover between logic and creativity, which is really interesting because usually a lot of people land either more on the creativity side of things and then there are a lot of people that land purely on the analytical side of things," Skonnard said. "Computer science is one of the realms where you are forced to use both at the same time."

For teacher Greg Cox, having his students work through Hour of Code and conquer the complex challenges involved goes beyond a lesson plan or curriculum.

“I like seeing them struggle, but continuing to improve and learn from the program and the hints that they give you to try to accomplish a task that at first seems pretty hard,” Cox said. “When they accomplish it [there is] excitement you see on their face and they are chatting with their neighbors about how they finally did it.”

The possibilities of what can be built and changes that can be made through computer programming are already swirling around in these students’ minds after just one hour.

“Like, after I get really good using the block programs, then I can start using typing programs. It’s really cool,” said Colin, who wants to go to MIT and become a computer programmer

His classmate Lilly wants better representation for girls in the gaming world.

“If you keep doing this when you are an adult you can create something that you wanted to, you can actually create something that people can use,” Lilly said. “I’d like to create games for girls like me because you don’t really much find stuff like that.”

For these young, ambitious programmers it all started this week with the Hour of Code.