Amboy students try hands at computer coding

Hour of Code movement aims to get more youngsters developing computer language

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter

Published:

 

o Global event in which students learn to write computer code.

o Tens of thousands of students in more than 180 countries.

o Try coding puzzles at Code.org.

o Try more Hour of Code with Khan Academy.

o Watch the video of President Obama learning how to write a line of code.

AMBOY — Two weeks ago in the White House, President Barack Obama kicked off a global effort geared to help kids learn basic computer coding. With students coaching him on either side, he wrote his first-ever computer code, a single line of JavaScript: moveForward(100). His line of code drew a line to complete a square on the computer screen.

Thursday, 2,830 miles from the White House, sixth-graders at Amboy Middle School joined tens of thousands of students in more than 180 countries in the Hour of Code. It’s an effort to encourage kids to try their hand at basic coding.

Frederick Tillman, the school’s computer teacher, is leading all six of his classes to the coding waters this week. The 20-puzzle Hour of Code uses videos, audio and games to introduce students to rudimentary coding.

o Global event in which students learn to write computer code.

o Tens of thousands of students in more than 180 countries.

o Try coding puzzles at Code.org.

o Try more Hour of Code with Khan Academy.

o Watch the video of President Obama learning how to write a line of code.

The sixth-grade students didn’t write code in JavaScript or any other coding language directly. Instead, Hour of Code uses Blockly, a visual representation of what the code is doing, Tillman said.

Each of Tillman’s students was seated at a computer and wore headphones to hear the puzzle instructions. The kids were focused on the task at hand. No one was chatting or wasting time.

In the first puzzle, a red bird named Angry Bird asks students: “Can you help me to catch the naughty pig? Stack a couple of ‘move forward’ blocks together and press ‘Run’ to help me get there.”

Some kids are so wrapped up in figuring out the coding puzzle that they point their hands in the direction they are tasked to move Angry Bird.

Sometimes kids try the blocks of code, but it doesn’t work. They get to keep trying until they are successful.

“I love the fact that it’s logic,” Tillman said, looking around his classroom. “If it didn’t work, there’s a reason for it.”

Rural Amboy is in the far northern part of Battle Ground Public Schools.

“A lot of our kids don’t even have Internet at home because it’s so remote and is hard to get out here,” Tillman said. “But even with slow Internet, you can do this. If you will study, you can learn. Between Hour of Code, Khan Academy and YouTube, the resources are amazing.”

At the core of Hour of Code is the idea that basic programming isn’t difficult. Hadi Partovi is chief executive officer of Code.org, which founded Hour of Code. In an article in Quora, he wrote about Obama’s line of code.

“Drawing one line to finish a square isn’t hard, it’s not rocket science,” Partovi wrote in the Quora article. “And that’s exactly the point. That’s how computer science starts. You don’t write a fully fledged game when you write your very first line of code, you write something as simple as PRINT ‘Hello World.’ “

When Obama sat down with Washington, D.C.-area students at the White House, he mentioned that Hour of Code has the opportunity to whet kids’ appetite for coding several years before they begin college.

“Part of what we’re realizing is that we’re starting too late when it comes to making sure that our young people are familiar not just with how to play a video game, but how to create a video game. Not just how to work a smartphone, but how to create the apps for the smartphone,” Obama said in White House room where tables of students sat at computers working on coding puzzles.

“One of the great things about America is that we invent and make stuff, not just use it,” Obama said. “These are a whole bunch of makers here, and somebody in this room, I suspect, is going to come up with some outstanding new game or new device or something that I won’t be able to figure out, but Malia and Sasha will teach me how to use it.”