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Six-year-olds can write computer programs

How Hour of Code is teaching kids to control the computers than run their connected world.

 

You need to help Hiro—a small cartoon cube—make his way around Box Island and collect stars.

You have one hour to do it. And when you’re done, you will know the basic steps of coding a computer program.

Even a six-year-old can do it. In fact, six-year-olds are doing it—in Hour of Code, an international event where kids spend 60 minutes learning to code, one of the building blocks of programming computers.

 

Mississippi students learn to code at a coding workshop in 2014.

 

Millions of children from kindergarten through high school are spending an hour this week developing skills that could help them create and run the websites, traffic lights, hospitals and plants you depend on to live and work.

“These days, kids learn how to use smart phones and tablets in preschool,” said Randy Lynn, co-founder of KidsCode Mississippi, who helped his son’s school participate in Hour of Code.

“I believe that learning how to program a computer is a vital, fundamental literacy and all kids should have the opportunity to experience it,” Lynn told Archer News.

 

The Box Island game teaches kids—and adults—basic elements of coding. Image: Radiant Games

 

Angry Birds

For the kids, it’s not learning to code, but a game—Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Minecraft, Star Wars, Frozen and more.

To move forward in the game, they have to solve problems that use the fundamentals of coding, assisted by colorful graphics and game-style images.

Student and video game aficionado Caleb Partridge decided to give it a try at his Mississippi school when he was 12 and in sixth grade.

“During the Hour of Code, I got to take popular video games and accomplish levels by dragging basic code into a program,” he said.

“As the hour went by, you were given multiple different games and needed different lines of code for each level,” Partridge added. “Such as the Angry Bird levels, where you had to program the red bird to run through a path to get the pigs.”

It was a peek into a new world—the world of making video games, rather than just playing.

“I think it really opened his eyes to a little of what goes on behind the scenes of the games he enjoys playing, and gave him an idea of what it would be like to be able to create games for others to play,” his father, Kevin, said.

Now 14 and in eighth grade, Partridge is using coding for his robotics class, and plans to become an engineer.

“Now I love coding,” Partridge said, “But wish I did more of it when I was younger so I could be fluent.”

 

Caleb Partridge, now 14, participated in Hour of Code at age 12. Photo credit: Kevin Partridge

 

Daunting?

If you’re not very “technical,” an hour of code might seem daunting. But the code projects break down coding into understandable chunks.

For example, an ’algorithm’—a procedure or formula for solving a problem—is a key part of the process.

It may sound complicated, but as you may learn at Hour of Code, you use algorithms every day.

Here’s an algorithm for solving the problem of brushing your teeth, explained the creators of Hour of Code’s Box Island game:

  1. Enter bathroom
  2. Find toothpaste and toothbrush
  3. Place toothpaste onto brush
  4. Return toothpaste to storage place
  5. Turn water on
  6. Wet toothbrush head
  7. For a total of 2 minutes, brush all teeth in your mouth
  8. Rinse mouth
  9. Rinse toothbrush
  10. Return toothbrush to storage place
  11. Exit bathroom

You can give a computer a set of instructions like these—an algorithm—so it can complete tasks for you. Now you’re starting to code!

 

Kids work with algorithms & other elements of coding in Box Island. Image: Radiant Games

 

Big prize

Lynn’s kids love the video game Minecraft, he told the audience at the BSides Jackson cybersecurity conference in Jackson, Mississippi last month.

“I love the creative world-building aspects of it,” he said. “But in the back of my mind, I was thinking to myself, could they being doing something better with their time? Could they be building their own Minecraft some day?”

When he first heard about Hour of Code back in 2013, he decided he could help bring that to schools in Mississippi—starting with his son’s school, Highland Elementary in Ridgeland.

 

Mississippi students learn to code at a 2014 coding event.

 

“We organized a meeting with the school principal and the computer teacher and they were interested and supportive—especially after I told them that the school would be eligible to win a $10,000 prize if we would commit to giving every student the opportunity to participate,” Lynn said.

Teachers did not need to know how to code to run the event in their classrooms. The kids could use phones, tablets or computers. They could work in groups, or alone.

Not only did the school participate, but it also landed the prize.

“We were able to buy enough tablet computers for a full classroom with the money,” Lynn said.

 

Randy Lynn shows second-graders how to code in 2014.

 

Sharing knowledge

For Lynn, it is more than just one hour a year.

He and others passionate about helping kids learn about the digital world hold workshops for children, teachers and parents.

He helped found KidsCode Mississippi, and started a project to give low-income children a chance to learn about coding and computers.

 

Randy Lynn runs a coding workshop for kids & teachers in 2014.

 

This week

Hour of Code takes place this week, December 5 through 11. But the group behind the project, Code.org, helps people do their own group coding project any time.

Lynn encourages parents to help organize an event at their school, even if they have no computer knowledge or skills.

 

Students work on their coding skills at a 2014 workshop in Mississippi.

 

You may learn something too, by playing one of the Hour of Code games, interactive digital greeting card projects, art and music programs, and more.

After all, if a six-year-old can do it, why not you?

“My six-year-old daughter programmed her first ‘app’ on the iPad and got to take part in an engaging and interactive lesson on programming made possible by the Falmouth High students,” wrote one parent online after the first Hour of Code in 2013. “Complete with carrot-munching bunnies!”

“There are so many important occupations and big problems to solve in this world, and many of those problems will be solved by people who know how to develop new computer applications, harness the power of automation, and think creatively,“ Lynn said. “Every parent should want that kind of opportunity for their child.”

 

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