In an hour, students can learn some coding basics through a project that's aimed at sparking interest in computer programming by making it more accessible.
The global "Hour of Code" project, spearheaded by the nonprofit code.org, aims to get 10 million schoolchildren, ages 6 and older, to spend an hour this week learning the basics of coding. Participants can choose from a variety of online tutorials, including one designed at the University of Colorado.
The project is part of Computer Science Education Week. While computer science students participate, students who aren't taking those classes are the targets.
Sue Johnson, Monarch High School's computer science teacher, said the idea for a Computer Science Education Week was developed by the Computer Science Teachers of America. She's co-president of the local chapter along with Boulder High computer science teacher Tony Jiron -- and both are promoting the Hour of Code districtwide.
"We're trying to make a big push this year because it's really a great thing," she said.
Andrew Moore, Boulder Valley's chief information officer, said he's also promoting the project.
"I'm having a hard time hiring computer programmers, and it hit my radar," he said. "The goal is to get kids who aren't in computer science to try it. Programming is as much creativity as it is just pure logic. We need creative kids to go into programming."
CU's tutorial teaches students how to build their own 3-D video game by "inflating" hand-drawn 2-D icons and then programming those objects to interact in defined ways.
For example, a participant could create a 3-D version of Frogger by inflating a frog and then writing a line of code that would tell the program to squash the frog if it collides with a truck that has also been programmed to move horizontally across the screen at a set speed.
CU computer science professor Alexander Repenning, who led the project, said the perception is that programming is hard and boring. He wants to show that it's something anyone can do -- and that it's fun. Even if students don't go into programming, he said, it's worthwhile to understand computing basics.
"We are focusing on introducing programming earlier, at elementary and middle school," he said. "The key is to create something of interest that really motivates the students and gets them excited."
The CU tutorial builds on two decades of Repenning's research, which pioneered drag-and-drop programming tools for kids called AgentSheets and AgentCubes. Repenning and his team also developed Scalable Game Design, a curriculum teachers can use to help their students use AgentSheets and AgentCubes.
The Scalable Game Design project recently received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue to expand nationally.
(c) 2013 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)