Excel’s Hour of Code

Like thousands of schools around the world, this week we held our Hour of Code, introducing our sixth grade students to programming using code.org‘s excellent platform and curricula. Building on the computational thinking lessons we’ve been working on so far this year, the chance to apply these concepts to tangible computer science exercises was a thrill for our students. We kicked things off by discussing all of the different career paths in which students would benefit by knowing programming principals, and establishing some common vocabulary like “debugging”. As computers were distributed, the excitement in the room was palpable.

Students chose between three sets of lessons – creating a Star Wars game controlling droids old and new, adventuring in the world of Minecraft, or creating geometric art masterpieces on ice in Frozen. All three started students off with the basics – teaching the computer to move a character around the screen a certain distance (be it a step, a grid square or 100 pixels) and then chaining multiple instructions together to solve specific problems. Soon enough, students were deep into their own creations, dreaming up fractals on ice or spawning hundreds of Star Wars creatures every time they bumped into a wall. Gleeful cries of “I finally got it!” and “Look at what I did!” were well-balanced by concentrated silences and moments of brief frustration that were often resolved by helpful peers.

One of Code.org's Star Wars lessons demonstrating ways of changing environment variables in a basic game.
One of Code.org’s Star Wars lessons demonstrating ways of changing environment variables in a basic game.

The clearest sign of success was the staggering number of students begging to tackle another set of lessons the next day. If they could start seventh grade tomorrow and jump into our computer science class, they wouldn’t hesitate. The seeds have been planted, and hopefully in the coming months we will have further opportunities to get our sixth graders coding again.

Huge thanks to our amazing volunteers Kory, Maddy and Sunny for working tirelessly with students yesterday – we absolutely could not have done this without them!

Volunteers and students hard at work!
Volunteers and students hard at work!

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