- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Tapping away on their keyboards at schools across the county last week, students played games based on popular characters, such as Anna and Elsa from the movie “Frozen” and the flock from Angry Birds, while learning skills that could lead to technical careers.

D.H. Conley High School Instructional Coach Lisa Smith brought Hour of Code to the school as part of Computer Science Education Week. Students used free tutorials from the website Code.org.

The nonprofit website launched last year. It is working to expand interest in computer science by making lessons available in more schools.

Code.org hopes to encourage women and minorities to consider computer science careers, according to the website.

D.H. Conley had hundreds of its students participate in Hour of Code. So did many other county schools, along with education institutes from around the world.

Smith said more than 90 percent of American schools do not teach computer programming, though more jobs in the field are emerging. Less than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science, and that number has dropped in the last decade, according to hourofcode.com.

“There’s a huge demand and a huge market, but we’re not training kids,” Smith said.

After hearing about Hour of Code during an instructional coaches meeting along with an anecdote from someone about a relative who programmed a game and sold it to Microsoft for millions of dollars, Smith decided to investigate in her own household.

Smith has five children ranging from kindergarten to college. She decided to see how they would take to coding using the website.

“They love games, too,” she said. “I said, ‘How about instead of spending three hours on a video game, you give me an hour and maybe you play some of this.’ They don’t know they’re learning the code.”

Smith said anyone can access the website.

After success with her own family, Smith asked career and technical education teachers and media coordinators to see if they were interested in helping out hold Hour of Code at the school and asked permission from the principal.

To garner interest from students, Smith advertised the event, had lunchtime signups, talked to classrooms and encouraged teachers to participate. Some teachers have entire classes participate by either using computer labs or by bringing laptops into their classrooms.

“(The interest) is far greater than we ever expected for our first year,” she said. “We hoped if we get a couple hundred, that would be great and the word will spread, but we could potentially hit half of our student body.”

Smith said she would like to have an Advanced Placement computer programming class, but there needs to be student interest first.

“You can’t have classes if students don’t sign up,” she said.

Students who participated in Hour of Code filled out a survey. Smith said those who were interested in coding will be contacted by a CTE teacher to follow up with them to in hopes of scheduling the class

“These kids who are finishing four tutorials in an hour’s time, I’m going, ‘You know, you might have an affinity for this. You might want to check yes on this box. There might be something that we can do. There might be a class we can offer you,” Smith said.

She said students who have participated were genuinely interested and spent little to no time doing things that were off task - such as listening to music online - and actively participated in the event

Juwan Reddick, a junior at D.H. Conley, participated in Hour of Code and said he is interested in learning more about it.

Reddick said he had never participated in coding prior and said it was a good introduction.

“I learned how to use different programs and stuff on the computer,” he said. “. Once you get into coding, coding is a little more challenging.”

Makenna Matthijs, a sophomore at D.H. Conley, participated in Hour of Code twice. She participated once with a class and then signed up for another session.

Matthijs said she takes a multimedia and web page design class and has previous experience in coding.

“In my class we’re doing websites and different web pages,” she said. “This is actually a little easier than what we’ve been doing in the classroom.”

Matthijs, who wants to go into the medical field, said she is interested in possibly taking an AP computer programming class.

“This is kind of cool to learn all of the new stuff,” she said. “I like coding, so this is kind of fun.”

Smith said it’s important for children to learn what is behind the scenes of their favorite websites and potentially explore a hot job market.

“We’re introducing students to coding, the things behind their apps and their web pages and their social networks and their video games, because most aren’t aware of how that’s done with hopes that maybe we’ll find kids who have an affinity for it or an interest in it and would like to do that,” she said.

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Information from: The Daily Reflector, https://www.reflector.com

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