December 8 through 14 is Computer Science Education Week, and during this time schools, companies, and organizations host what is known as an “Hour of Code.” While the events vary depending out their sponsor, the goal is the same: to teach kids the fundamentals of programming so they can lean to make games, apps, and all sorts of computer programs.
“Kids can expect a variety of things,” said Greg Bulmash, organizer of the Seattle Chapter of CoderDojo. “What the kids will do all depends on what tutorials the instructors planning the event are ready amd willing to support.”
“What’s the difference between a bit of code drawing a shape on a screen (go forward 17 spaces, turn 90 degrees clockwise, go forward 17 spaces) and the directions in a pirate’s treasure map (walk 17 paces, turn toward the volcano, walk 17 paces),” he said. “When kids learn that writing a program is like guiding a pirate to treasure, it gets less scary and feels like something they can do. Half of learning anything is the confidence that you can learn it. I honestly see the Hour of Code and the early stuff they do with CoderDojo as more of a confidence builder than a skill builder. And once the confidence is there, we’re ready to help build the skills.”
Bulmash got started with CoderDojo as a way to build this confidence in his son. “Last year, my 8-year-old son wanted to learn to code, but I found a lot of the tools that worked for me didn’t work for him. I thought about starting a meetup group for parents who were teaching their kids to code, so we could share what was working for us. That lead to using the public announcement section at a Hacker News meetup to do a little market research on whether there were enough parents to drive such a group. I was approached by a guy who was in StudentRND [another nonprofit aimed at teaching kids to code] at the University of Washington, who told me about CoderDojo,” Bulmash said. “I looked it up and thought it seemed like an awesome idea, but the closest one was in San Francisco. Well, I was considering starting a meetup group, so I started a CoderDojo chapter. It’s required a bit more commitment than just doing a monthly evening meetup for parents, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
Bulmash said that besides being fun, participating in these events can be a rewarding experience as well. “I get to meet wonderful kids and parents and volunteers, and do something that has a positive impact on their lives. Plus I get to model behaviors of initiative, leadership, and service for my own children. It’s pretty darn cool.”
Those interested in participating in the Hour of Code can look up local events on the Code.org website.