Studies have shown time and time again that computer science skills are invaluable tools to have in today’s world. And last week at F-Secure headquarters in Helsinki, F-Secure fellow Maaret Pyhäjärvi invited her colleagues’ kids to come to the office to take part in the Hour of Code.
The Hour of Code is an initiative from Code.org designed to introduce kids to the wonderful world of coding. And while coding has a stereotypical reputation of being difficult, labor intensive work, Maaret (winner of this year’s Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person award) feels that this reputation ignores how the right knowledge and skills can empower kids to take full advantage of the benefits technology offers.
“I teach kids, because in a world full of computers, we want our kids to grow up knowing how to be creators, not just consumers,” Maaret told me. “I started teaching when I realized that while this stuff is ‘cool’ for the boys, the girls are still often not interested. They have too few models of doing this, and people sometimes portray this job that I love as something it isn’t: asocial and boring.”
The Hour of Code is designed to teach anyone holding the preconceptions pointed out by Maaret a lesson about how coding can be fun and engaging. And I mean that literally.
Code.org provides anyone interested in throwing their own Hour of Code event with all the support they need to create a fun, engaging lesson for kids up to grade 9 (they also have a page with extra learning resources for kids to continue their computer science education). It even has lesson plans to use with groups of people that have limited internet access or no actual computers.
At F-Secure, the kids overwhelmingly voted for a Minecraft-themed exercise when Maaret gave them a choice between that and an activity based on the latest Disney feature (both available on the Hour of Code website). The coding exercise was followed by some drawing, and then a pizza and pop party.
It was a great way to spend a morning. It’s also a great way to encourage kids to begin learning about computers responsibly at a young age. Anything that can be said here about the importance of computer know-how in today’s economy would be superfluous. But not many people realize that there’s a discrepancy between the kind of computer skills being taught in schools and the kind of computer skills needed by employers.
According a recent Washington Post article, only one-quarter of schools in the US teach computer science courses, even though there are currently half a million unfilled jobs that require a computer science education.
And while today’s kids are hardly going to fill that gap anytime soon, they do need to start learning the fundamentals needed to develop more advanced computer science skills.
For example, a free MOOC called Cyber Security Base with F-Secure recently organized by F-Secure and the University of Helsinki requires some basic knowledge of coding in order to participate.
So even though Computer Science Education Week is over, you shouldn’t let this discourage you from giving kids the support they need to get into programming.
Check out this website for more information on setting up your own Hour of Code.
And here are resources you can use to learn more about coding, programming, scripting, and more (although they’re more advanced than the Hour of Code).
Introduction to Computer Science and Programming from MIT OpenCourseWare
Code Racer – A video game designed to teach coding (these are development instructions as the actual game is no longer on the web)