Willow Scholars learn how to code!
This month I had the privilege to lead two Excursion classes on Coding. Originally it was going to be one group for one day — as part of code.org's Hour of Code, but there was so much advance interest I was asked if it would be possible to rerun the class the following week which I was happy to do.
Before even touching computers we spent a good half hour discussing coding — what it is, who does it, and how it's done. It was very important to me to break down many of the stereotypes that exist around coding (and tech in general) and point out that coding is and should be a very inclusive and diverse profession and that it doesn't even have to involve computers — writing music is a form of coding, for example, an example that surprised the scholars but then made immediate sense to them upon reflections. I want our scholars to know that there are no excuses for any of them to be told or believe that they can not be successful coders in one form or another as long as they have interest and desire.
The main activity was working through this year's Hour of Code project. The project used code.org's Scratch platform to simplify coding by using blocks of instructions and fitting them together much like you would with building blocks. It's straightforward to learn and understand the system to allow Scholars to follow fundamental principles of coding without having to learn too much specific jargon like actual computer languages, spelling/grammar/punctuation standards, etc.
This year's project was centered on initially programming single animated dancers to interact with music, and as Scholars progressed through the project, they could add dancers until at the end they were managing a full dance party. Dance was a particularly compelling theme as everyone could select dancers and music that they enjoyed, and they quickly got hooked on the "what-if?" that makes coding so interesting. They'd ask me "Mr. Z - what if I do this?" and all I would have to do is encourage them to try and see what happens. Results were often hard to predict and often incredibly amusing.
I have never seen groups of middle-school aged kids so engaged and productive. Two hours went by much too quickly, and I believe it's safe to say that everyone was disappointed when the time was up. My sincerest thanks to the Scholars who selected to learn some coding with me, Willow staff for giving me a place to pass on my love of coding to another generation, and my employer Baker Boyer Bank for encouraging me to volunteer time to the Willow community and providing some support materials.