Dispatches from the 2015 Hour of Code: 'Anyone can do this'


Participation in Hour of Code, now in its third year, is growing exponentially in Hawaii. More than 130 schools on six islands participated during Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 6-13.

​​​​​​The annual Hour of Code event, hosted and coordinated by the nonprofit Code.org, is meant to inspire school communities to embrace programming as a meaningful avenue to learn problem-solving, resilience and teamwork while exercising the creative muscle. If this year is any indication, schools aren’t stopping now that the week is over. (See this piece on expanding the computer science knowledge base in schools from teacher Shane Asselstine.) 

Here’s how a selection of Hawaii schools added their local touch to this year’s event:

howard kam
Howard Kam troubleshoots a Javascript error with a student.

Roosevelt High School

Monday, Dec. 7​

The students who got a pass from their regular 6th period class to attend the special Hour of Code session shuffled into the computer lab overlooking the gleaming Rough Rider stadium. Getting a pass is no small feat at the end of semester, when projects are due and assessments planned before winter break. These kids really wanted to learn.

The lights were dimmed to better view the big screen linked to teacher Howard Kam’s laptop, which was running the Sublime text-editing program.

“Come on in!” Kam greeted. “Is this your first coding class?” Kam, who runs the CTE/STEM/Learning Center programs at Roosevelt, couldn’t hide his enthusiasm. Unlike most of the classes being offered during Computer Science Education Week, which uses programs with beautiful interfaces from the Code Studio suite, Kam’s class was diving into real code. As the students settled in and booted up their computers, Kam’s screen came to life with "html, /html" glowing in pink. “Everything that opens, must close,” he said.

With this simple framework in place, it was time to start building their first tool. “If html is the frame of the car, cascading style sheets (CSS) is the paint and the design, and Javascript is the engine.”

The goal was to construct a tool that deploys lists of food and ways to prepare them — click a button, and you get a food combo, click again and get a new one. Kam demonstrated how to build these variables (“var”) into a function tied to the button. “You have to tell computers what you want them to do,” he said.

Saving their code files to the desktops and dragging into a browser window enabled the tool. They clicked the button: Baked chicken. Clicked again: Fried chicken. Thirty more options appeared as they cycled through the various combinations.


Some tools performed beautifully, and those students started helping their friends who were troubleshooting misplaced single quotes and brackets.

Then, time to add the “paint.” Using CSS, students were guided to add images of dishes, and change the color and size of the font. They swapped in different colors, sizes and image and watched the tool conform.

“What other kinds of tools could you create with this?” Kam asked. Students called out, “survivors of the zombie apocalypse” and “bad pick-up lines.”

“Save your files,” Kam said. “If you come back tomorrow, you’ll make it better.”

Kam hosted an Hour of Code each day at Roosevelt last week, logging 81 student check-ins. In addition to the food tool, students build a cookie-clicker game and a game using logic to process IF and ELSE conditions. “You don’t have to know higher-level mathematics to do this,” Kam said. “I’m trying to dispel that myth. Anyone can do this.”

Students in Diane Foulks' media class at Waimea Canyon Middle tackle Minecraft puzzles.

Waimea Canyon Middle School

Tuesday, Dec. 8

There is only one school that can lay claim to hosting the Hour of Code in the most southwestern corner of the United States. That honor belongs to the 6th, 7th and 8th graders who participated at Waimea Canyon Middle.

Though separated from the wired hustle and bustle of Honolulu by many miles of land and ocean, and situated in a sleepy beach community at the foot of the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon Middle is every bit as plugged in as “town” schools.

Teacher and tech coordinator Diane Foulks helped coordinate Hour of Code events at the school. It’s 8 a.m. and her media class is about to begin. Students walk past a 3D printer with the remnants of white Christmas tree ornaments, past banks of thin-screen iMacs, and settle in at communal desks in the center of the room.

She kicked off today’s Hour of Code session with the popular Code.org video, “What Most Schools Don’t Teach” (nearly 13 million views), to help address the core issue in any course of learning — why should we care?

minecraft“How does coding relate to your life?” Foulks asked. Through the video, it quickly it became clear: Opportunities. For jobs, sure, but also opportunities to be creative, and for life experiences beyond their own. Whether it made an impression through the restless energy of 17 girls and boys in the early morning on a Tuesday, hard to say.

But it was clear it had by the time the Hour of Code was done.

The students cycled through a series of 14 puzzles using Code Studio’s Minecraft platform, in which users build structures and manage resources by plotting sequential actions. Some kids breezed on through (“I do this at home with my family, it’s fun.”) Others without that access at home hit some roadblocks with the upper level puzzles — running into lava on Puzzle 12 in particular. The restless energy at the top of class had quieted and sharpened. Students were focused.

Foulks encouraged them to “pair program” and solve together, and to stick with it. “Hard things are good, they make figuring them out that much more worthwhile.”

When they finished — and they all finished within the hour — they were given the opportunity to choose any other platform in the Code Studio: Flappy Code, Star Wars, Frozen, etc. “Or you can help put the morning announcements together,” Foulks offered. (The students all returned to code.)

brown's class
Shana Brown kicks off her class with Minecraft to help the students "get comfortable with sequencing."

More sparks fly in the next building over, where Shana Brown’s specialized instruction math class is beginning an Hour of Code. They start with the same Minecraft platform, then shift to Bitsbox to learn the components of building an application, then to Khan Academy’s Javascript-based “Hour of Drawing with Code.”

(“Starting with Minecraft helps them get comfortable with sequencing, which you need as a foundation to do the others,” Brown explained.)

“Why do you need code? What can you do with code?” Brown asks the class. Students shout out answers: creating web pages, working in robotics, or the military. “Right, there’s really nothing that code doesn’t touch,” she said. “This is why you want to learn it. You need be able to tell your computer what to do.”

As the students created apps on Bitsbox, they learned to customize by swapping in their own color fills and graphic stamps. “What’s this like?” Brown asks the class. “Algebra,” said a student. “Right. Plugging in different values into lines of code creates new equations and outcomes, same as in math,” Brown said.

Brown provided links to the resources on her blog and encouraged students to keep working outside of class.

Two more media classes and the yearbook class at Waimea Canyon participated later that week for a total of 90 students.

ewa el check
Nice check! Ewa Elementary 5th graders with (from left) teachers Lorna Koike and Lynda Nagai, Complex Area Supt. Heidi Armstrong, Tech Coordinator Terri Trevathan, Principal Stanley Tamashiro and Deputy Supt. Stephen Schatz.

Ewa Elementary School

Wednesday, Dec. 9

Several schools across Hawaii held school-wide Hour of Code events in which students in all classes participated. One had the distinction this year of being rewarded with $10,000 from Code.org for the effort.

student codingEwa Elementary plans to use the funds to purchase more devices for the school toward their 1:1 effort. After the check ceremony, the students Skyped with the development team from SMART amp, a platform Ewa is piloting that allows students to work on projects together in real-time. The team — Colin, Elmar, Jameson and Jackie, based out of Calgary, Canada — shared their educational and career experiences in response to student questions.

“It was especially relevant for our students — making the connection that the team they were Skyping with was the actual team that created and developed the SMART amp program they’re using in school,” said Ewa El tech coordinator Terri Trevathan. “The amp development team even showed our students an example of Python code driving the commands needed in computer programs, games and apps.”

After the Skype session, 5th graders completed a puzzle set from the Code Studio platform, then searched and added images pertaining to the puzzles they completed. They finished with a constructed response exercise on possible careers associated with the work they’re doing.

From the outside looking in: Four classrooms wired together via Google Hangout were used to host Momilani's community event.

Momilani Elementary School

Thursday, Dec. 10

Typically, it’s not kids who need convincing that learning code is cool. Adults who haven’t grown up as “digital natives” can sometimes be wary of technology, even fearful. If teachers and parents don’t understand it, how can they support kids in their learning?

Which was the thinking behind Momilani El’s community event, “EVERYONE CAN CODE.” Dispelling the notion that technology and programming are “hard” is curriculum and technology coordinator Shane Asselstine’s mission.

Momilani, which is a 1-to-1 school, hosted about 300 family and community members to learn an Hour of Code. The night kicked off with a robotics demo in the school library — app-controlled toy versions, which the kids squealed over, to a bomb-deconstructing robot used in the field brought by a parent.

chart For the main event, four classrooms were packed with kids and families huddled around hundreds of laptops, and wired in to a Google Hangout with three Hawaii-based computer scientists (two of whom were Momilani parents) who shared their insight about the need for computer science in school.

It’s summed up by this Code.org chart (right), shared at Momilani’s Hour of Code. “These are the careers of the future.”

Coders of every age jumped into the puzzles and games, helped along by the scientists, Momilani’s teaching staff and kids who knew their way around the platforms.

As evidenced in other schools, students showed very high levels of engagement. “And once students are engaged, anything’s possible,” noted Asselstine.

Hour of Code Facebook galleri​es

Code.org workshops​

Shane Asselstine is a Code.org trainer offering free workshops for teachers grades K-5 around the state. ​​Search for workshops in your area.

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