Imagine a weeklong global event that blends puzzles, games and learning while helping students gain valuable lifelong job skills.
Voila: That event has arrived. It's called Hour of Code, it runs primarily this week (Dec. 5-11), and it entails a personal one-hour introduction to computer science for every participating student.
The program, created by the nonprofit group code.org, "was laid out so that any teacher at any level can feel comfortable introducing students to coding. And from there they get the confidence to explore other technologies," said Veronica Gonzalez, Coordinator of Education Technology at JUSD.
The idea behind Hour of Code is to demystify computer science, which can seem technical, complex and remote. Code.org offers more than 100 free hour-long tutorials, including modules involving art, music, sports, news, storytelling, Star Wars, and Legos.
Such topics help make coding real and relatable, and some students go on to create apps, games and other small marvels, said Ms. Gonzalez. "For them it brings a real-life application: 'Wow, I did this programming and I created this game myself.' "
JUSD tested the Hour of Code with a few instructors in 2014, expanding the program both last year and in 2016, Ms. Gonzalez said. This week and next, she expects at least half of K-12 campus libraries to partake in the event, along with many teachers at sites districtwide.
By learning computer science applications now, she said, students can build skills and lay groundwork for a range of careers. Coding helps teach step-by-step thinking, creativity, trial and error, and problem solving.
"It's really about puzzles," Ms. Gonzalez said. "Many modules are like video games. You have to think logically about how to get your character to do what you want them to. I've seen students get up from their desks and move their bodies to work through the commands that they want to type in."
At Jurupa Unified, educators will determine which tutorials each class will focus on, with some teachers giving students the full run of coding choices at www.hourofcode.com. Students can perform the work in class or at home on their district-issued Chromebooks.
Upon completion of an hour-long coding module, each participant earns a certificate he or she can print out, save or share on social media.
Success more broadly depends on how many students the program can acquaint to a fast-growing field. According to code.org, computing jobs are the top source of new wages in the U.S., and university majors in computer science can see paychecks up to 40 percent higher than the college average.
At the same time, computing has been stereotyped as a white male profession, code.org and other analysts say. To help the opportunity reach all students, JUSD not only embraced Hour of Code, but also partnered with other local school districts in the Inland Empire Code Consortium – a move to expand student access to computer science curriculum.
At Jurupa Unified, girls in particular are underrepresented in computer science. Ms. Gonzalez said the Advanced Placement computer science class at Patriot High enrolled just one brave girl.
Such ratios signal a need to bring more girls to the table, Ms. Gonzalez said: "We should at least introduce them to coding, so they realize, 'Oh, I can do this too.' "
That revelation can open the door to greater learning and, ultimately, to lucrative STEM careers, she said. "Having the confidence to go into one classroom provides the confidence to enter others."
To try your hand at coding or help your student complete Hour of Code at home, visit www.hourofcode.com.