Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Not just Obama: South Philly 5-year-olds complete Hour of Code class

President Obama may have become the first U.S. president to write code, but these 5-7-year-olds were also catching the coding bug last week. Dozens of Philadelphia schools hosted Hour of Code events.

You know about the Hour of Code movement making waves across the globe — the same series that recently prompted President Obama to become the first U.S. president to write a line of code.

What you might not know is that Hour of Code has trickled down to children who are still learning to recite the alphabet.

So, what does that even look like? Stephen Garland, a retired MIT researcher-turned-consultant might be able to tell you.

Last Wednesday, Garland and colleague Jonathan Kaye hosted Hour of Code for 5-7-year-olds at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Charles Santore Branch in South Philly.

To teach the fundamentals of computer programming, Garland and Kaye use ScratchJr, a free app that breaks simple coding down into fun games and stories. Kids “program” a cartoon cat to do things like eat a birthday cake, get hurled into space by a dragon and jump up and down.

“It’s all about computational thinking,” said Kaye, president of CommandSim, a simulation platform for incident training. “The same type of problem solving can be applied to any discipline.”

“Computational thinking,” Garland added, “is another cognitive skill that belongs in the curriculum along with reading, writing and arithmetic.”

For the first fifteen minutes or so of instruction, Garland and Kaye likened sequences of commands to Simon Says. Another fifteen minutes later — halfway through the slated workshop time — the kids at the library had already exhausted everything on Garland and Kaye’s agenda.

“Well,” Garland asked them, “do you want to quit while you’re ahead, or continue coding?”

One young attendee, relatively quiet and concentrated, pulled himself up to a kneel on his chair. Raising his arms, he yelled, “More code! More code!”

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Suddenly, a room filled with twenty or so children began begging Garland and Kaye to teach them more. And the instructors obliged.

“Teachers need to understand this stuff first,” says Garland. “Programs are becoming freely available. What may happen is the kids will just teach themselves.”

“This is extremely fragmented in terms of what schools have, what families have,” says Kaye. “We need to help parents and educators make sense of the vast array of resources out there.”

Dozens of Philly-area schools joined last week’s Hour of Code movement, including New Hope-Solebury High School, Center City private school Friends Select and North Philadelphia’s Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School and George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science.

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