Hour of Code program blends education and entertainment-ThemesReviewCentral

Holt Crossing Intermediate School students participated in Hour of Code on Dec. 7.

Hour of Code is an initiative from Code.org, a nonprofit organization that works to make computer science more accessible to students of all ages and backgrounds.

The annual program takes place during Computer Science Education Week, held in recognition of the Dec. 9 birthday of computing pioneer Grace Murray Hopper.

Holt Crossing was participating in the program for the first time.

"The goal for Hour of Code is to introduce students and get them excited about learning coding," Holt Crossing principal Denise Lutz said. "A lot of them are already pretty advanced in coding, but this is something they are all going to need to know to succeed in the 21st century."

In the coming decades, most careers will require some knowledge of coding, she said.

"Even in careers you wouldn't think, like fashion design, there will be some element of coding involved," Lutz said. "We want to get our students introduced early to the concept of coding and to realizing this is something that is important for them to learn."

The Hour of Code was just that -- a 60-minute activity in which each student uses coding to complete a tutorial. Each tutorial includes a set of tasks a student is asked to complete.

"Students get to choose the tutorial they want to try," Lutz said. "They involve fun themes that students relate to, like 'Minecraft' or 'Star Wars.' "

The skill level of the tutorials range from beginner to advanced, so students can choose a program that fits their comfort level, she said.

Sixth-grader Will Kraft chose the "Minecraft" tutorial, which involved using code to program commands for animals that were "frozen" in the "Minecraft" world.

"It's pretty cool," Will said. "It's a challenge to figure out how to use code to get your tasks done, but it's also a lot of fun.

"You're learning more about how computers work. We'll really need to know about computers when we grow up and go out looking for a job."

Delia Garcia and Amalia Martinez were trying coding for the first time, so they chose "Moana: Wayfinding with Code," which featured a character from a recent Disney movie they both love.

The tutorial features a visual programming language that uses blocks, and students drag and drop visual blocks to write code.

"It was fun and it helped us learn about technology," Delia said. "It's opened my mind about how people use computers."

Although the tutorial was like a game, Amalia said, Hour of Code taught her that computers are tools, not toys.

"We'll be using them in our careers," she said.

Lutz said she would ask Holt Crossing teachers to work collaboratively to find ways to expand the use of coding at the school.

"We're trying to build a STEM-based philosophy here and this is another piece of the puzzle," she said.