Hour of Code is an international effort to encourage people to learn computer coding. It happens annually in December, and is supported by a consortium of companies, celebrities, and educational partners. As the technology teacher at the International School of the Americas, this year I planned something special for my six classes.
First, we spent two days writing code. Rather than start from scratch, or use tools available online, I created my own lesson based on a coding workshop I attended at the 2014 Deeper Learning Conference at High Tech High in San Diego. My students used a freeware tool called Processing 3.0.1 to copy/paste lines of code I provided, then answered questions about the code by tweaking different numbers and symbols. By using a discovery model, students were able to decipher the code on their own.
Students were highly successful with the activity, even though it was challenging. One student, in response to the “Did you like this?” question at the end, said, “It was kind of confusing at first but once things started to work, it was really really exciting.”
After students had the coding experience, it was important for me to show them WHY coding is important, and HOW it is used in real life. At ISA, we strive to create Global Citizens who improve the world. Fortunately, I have been teaching a very long time (27 years!) and I am in contact with many of my former students. One student, Jewel Vandiver Willett, works for a tech startup called YourCause that has established itself as a global leader in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. She made plans to come visit my class during Hour of Code and we created an exciting lesson together.
On day 1 of Jewell’s visit, we video conferenced with coding engineers, software architects, and even the CEO of YourCause. We learned about their backgrounds, their education, and their most interesting projects.
We learned YourCause designed a software platform that allows the employees of their corporate clients to give money to non-profit causes, volunteer, and more. Seeing how coding can help save the world was powerful. YourCause is responsible for over $400 per MINUTE being donated to vetted charities, and has helped the employees of dozens of companies log over 7.7 million volunteer hours.
On Day 2 of Jewell’s visit, students first pulled up the Career Interest Surveys they had taken earlier in the year and read them. Then Jewell explained the corporate structure of her company. While software is their purpose, it takes many people to run the company. As it has grown, YourCause adds more departments and individual job descriptions become more specialized.
In groups of about 8, students were asked to verbally respond to the sentence, “In ten years, YourCause should hire me to be a _________ because _______.” Each group choose one representative to interview with Jewell in front of the class.
After each major project at ISA, students write blogs to serve as entries in their Digital Portfolio. In an ironic twist, they found out they would not be writing a post about this particular experience. However, our guest speaker’s boss asked her to write a blog post about her visit. Telling my classes this bit of information made them realize that blog posts are used in real life, and the skills they are learning are applicable after high school.