The beeps of robots and shrills of monsters replace the typical sounds one might hear from the students working in the computer lab at Spencer Technology Academy (Spencer) in Chicago.
“I finished half of my games!” cries one student. “How far are you?” asks another.
These students, who are part of City Year Chicago’s fourth-grade math and science club at the school, are participating in an interactive lesson in video game coding called “Star Wars: Building a Galaxy with Code.” As City Year AmeriCorps members lead students through the activity, students use code to solve problems, excitedly sharing their progress with classmates.
This lesson is part of Microsoft and Code.org’s annual Hour of Code and a pivotal part of Computer Science Education Week, held this year from December 4 to 11. Microsoft, a national partner of City Year, has collaborated with Code.org for the fifth year in a row to promote computer science education and Hour of Code to students in Chicago, across the country and around the world.
In today’s technology-driven economy, computer science skills are desirable to employers across every industry. That’s why Microsoft and Code.org want every student, in every school, to have the opportunity to learn to code. In the United States alone, there are over 500,000 open computing jobs, which are projected to grow twice the rate of all other jobs. Yet last year, less than 43,000 computer science students graduated into the US workforce.
Shonda*, a fourth grader at Spencer, comes to the Hour of Code lesson with some exposure to coding. She’s a pro at the Star Wars game, easily demonstrating how she can move her character across the screen.
“I like that we can move our avatars around and tell them where to go,” she says.
“This game is fun because you get to add your stuff and pick your own characters,” adds Shonda as she selects different creatures to appear with the click of her mouse. “Ever since I started playing with coding I loved it,” she explains as she continues to build new movements for her Star Wars characters.
Students are not the only ones learning about code through Hour of Code activities. In fact, some students are teaching their City Year mentors.
“When I was in school, I’d never even heard of coding,” said Jasmine Johnson, a City Year AmeriCorps member who leads the math and science club at Spencer. “One of my students was actually trying to teach me how to code. If you're able to teach somebody, it shows that you're smart and that you know what you're doing.”
Through City Year’s partnership with Microsoft, third- through ninth-grade students across the country are creating strong connections to computer science, not just through Hour of Code but through additional afterschool programming. With Microsoft’s investment in City Year’s math program in 2012, City Year has expanded its math tutoring and programmatic support to reach nearly 8,500 students. As part of that investment, Microsoft sponsors City Year teams in six communities with a focus on advancing STEM and computer science concepts.
“I love the partnership with City Year, especially here in Chicago with a STEM school like Spencer,” says Mary Monroy-Spampinato, business operations and community manager for Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin for the Microsoft Corporation, who is volunteering to support students during this Hour of Code lesson. “Getting students involved in computer science is vital for those next set of jobs that are going unfilled. City Year getting students engaged early on with Hour of Code is critical for students to attain essential skills like computational thinking.”
“Activities like coding builds a student’s confidence,” Jasmine adds. “It also helps them with critical thinking and builds upon their perseverance because they have to keep trying if they didn’t get it right the first time.”
Research shows that students who have access to technology gain skills that better prepare them for success in career and in life. With the support of partners like Microsoft, students like Shonda can continue to unlock infinite possibilities on the computer screen and in their futures.
While Computer Science Education Week concluded during the first week of December, Code.org tutorials remain available online for students of all ages. Check them out and help expose students to the possibilities that coding might unlock with a few simple clicks.
*Names changed to protect the privacy of our students