I wanted to start the year with a post about one of my favorite activities. The organization Code.org has an annual event that they run called Hour of Code. The idea of Hour of Code is to have technology professionals like you and I go into the classroom and spend the day with students and encourage students to consider careers in technology. I have been involved with Hour of Code for the past 5 years, conducting sessions at my local middle school. You can view videos of our latest Hour of Code sessions from the Blackstone Millville Regional school district here:
We also did an extra session introducing the students to the AWS Deep Racer.
For me, Hour of code is an incredibly rewarding experience. It is an opportunity to give back to the community that welcomed my family. It's also an important opportunity to connect with young students who may not otherwise be thinking about careers in technology and give them exposure to how cool technology careers can be.
I would encourage anyone reading this article to have a look at the materials available for Hour of Code, and give a little thought to joining in for an activity. Keep in mind that my Hour of Code program has been running for about 5 years and has grown fairly large; however, most Hour of Code sessions are much smaller. In many cases an Hour of Code activity will be only a single volunteer, or a small group of volunteers running a few activities, don't feel that you have to "Boil the Ocean" on your first attempt.
The first thing to do is decide if you want to run your event by yourself, or as a group. My suggestion is that a small group will work better than a single person. I typically find that 2 people in a classroom works well, but you can certainly make do with a single person.
Reach out to a local school. If you are reaching out blindly, I would suggest reaching out to the local principal, however, if you have an existing relationship with a science or technology teacher, then you can start there. Keep in mind that you are going to need support from the school in order for the program to be successful. The school may or may not have heard about Hour of Code before. Code.org has a sample introduction letter that you can use. Keep in mind that some schools already have an Hour of Code program, if that is the case you may want to join in on their existing program, or you could look for a different school.
Once you have a connection with the school, I suggest finding a teacher to be your partner at your school. I have a wonderful teacher at my local school that handles all of the in-school logistics. She takes care of socializing with the teachers, getting me the class schedules, and helping me to organize. I can honestly say that without the support of Caroline every year, our events wouldn't be half as good as they end up being. When you have identified your in-school support person, schedule a meeting with them. At this meeting you want to understand the school schedule, you want to understand what kind of technology the classrooms have to support your session, you want to understand if the school currently uses code.org activities, and most importantly, what kind of policies the school has in place for volunteers. Volunteers may have to fill out forms, get background checks, or do other things before being allowed to be on campus. These processes can take time, so you will need to understand this ahead of time.
With all of the administrative tasks out of the way, the real fun begins. (And I do mean fun) Select an age-appropriate activity for the kids. Code.Org has a wide range of activities available for you to use during your Hour of Code sessions, additionally, you can make up your own. I would suggest working with your teacher contact when you select the activities because you will want to know if the school already uses Code.org and if they do, what kinds of activities they currently use. This way you don't accidentally select an activity that the students have already completed.
We run sessions during the student's normal science classes. This means that we have about 45 minutes per class. Our schedule normally looks something like this:
2 Minutes: Getting the kids settled in.
2 Minutes: Introductions, who you are, what you are doing.
30 Minutes: Coding Activity
Remainder: Open Q&A for the kids.
The Q&A portion of the class is arguably more important that the coding activity. Give the kids an opportunity to ask questions and interact with you.
For the session I organize every year, I end up with a fairly large group. Usually about 25 people. This means we can have a large impact on school children every year. The organization is key to making this all run smoothly each year. I obsess about getting things organized. That said, nothing ever goes 100% to plan... don't sweat it... things usually work out. Absolute worse case, be prepared to spend the class time talking to students. If the tech all fails you can turn the class into an impromptu career exploration session.
Start small, and build. My first Hour of Code I had a much smaller group of people than I do now. It's grown over time. If you work with one science teacher and one or two classes in a day, then you have been successful!
Have fun! This should be tip number 1. The children won't know what you had planned, only what happens on the day. So even if you end up compromising on everything, they are going to walk away with an experience. The experience is everything. They are going to remember the day that the technology person came to talk to them, and they did something different.
Because I generally have a large group of volunteers, I want to make sure that I have a diverse group of people at my sessions. My goal, as much as possible, is to make sure that every student can see someone that looks like them. Diversity is important in technology, and one of the key objectives is to encourage students who may not have thought about careers in technology to have a look.
Understand that this is an opportunity as much for you as it is for them.
Don't take my word for it... hop on over to the Basement Programmer Podcast and listen to the Hartnett Middle School Principal Mary Colitto talk about her experience with our latest Hour of Code activity.
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