Rolling Hills Middle School students joined school children globally Friday as they participated in the Hour of Code, a challenge to get 10 million children worldwide to spend one hour learning about computer science.
Getting 1,025 students logged on to the same site at the same time to learn computer code was the biggest obstacle, but with the help of 60 Oak Ridge AP Computer Science students as teachers, the rest was a lesson in how children might dissect and understand technology instead of using it as a mindless pastime.
Between 1 and 2 p.m. high school students were in every classroom at Rolling Hills, offering a short introduction and then tutorial so students could start to code. There were several choices, from manually making an Angry Bird reach a pig to lighting up three-dimensional puzzle boxes using the kid-friendly programming tool Light-bot.
“Learning how to code teaches students how to problem solve in a new way,” said Oak Ridge AP Computer Science teacher Stephanie Allen. “Taking the mystery out of how software works opens up their imagination to new technological possibilities in any career they choose to pursue.”
In Mr. Mote’s seventh-grade science class the president of Oak Ridge’s computer science club, junior Jeremy Allen, first showed students a short video featuring President Obama about the Hour of Code’s goals. “Technology is important to our country’s future,” Obama said into the camera before stating all the ways technology affects young people’s lives. Ears perked up when the president said, “Don’t just buy a new video game; make one.”
Principal Debbie Bowers said taking part in the Hour of Code is beneficial for students on many levels. “Coding is all about critical thinking and giving good instructions,” she said.
“Oak Ridge has a top-notch computer science program,” Bowers said of the perks of being located across the street for partnership opportunities such as this one. “We’re hoping to get more interest in our (Friday after-school) computer science club and to familiarize students with what’s available to them when they move on to Oak Ridge. I also hope students see everyone can do this, both boys and girls.”
Sixth-graders Sydney Williams and Cade Richard had a head start. “I looked up the sites earlier in the week and already started coding,” said Sydney of the Angry Bird option. Other students sought her help during the hour.
Cade Richard attends Rolling Hills’ computer programming club every Friday and the hours of coding he’s already logged enabled him to write his own code during the hour — a “rock, paper, scissors” game he created.
“At first it was hoped 1 million school children would take part in the Hour of Code,” said Bowers. “But 13 million did … it’s amazing.”
Rolling Hills students were given permission to bring their own technology devices for the occasion. “This is a good excuse to use our phones,” several students said in technology teacher Mrs. Conforti’s class. For those students who didn’t bring personal devices, the school loaned them one.
“Maybe the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates is sitting in one of these classrooms right now,” said Allen. “In 20 years they might tell their story of how a high school computer science student came to their high school one day and inspired them to learn to code.”