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Teaching Middle Schoolers How to Code

January 2, 2018

This past December, Katie Dimond, Resource Data Programmer/Analyst, led a local Hour of Code event at Floyd Dryden Middle School in Juneau. US History Teacher John Wade reached out to Resource Data to help his 8th grade students create a project deliverable using technology instead of poster boards or reports.

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The Hour of Code is a global movement aiming to connect students to basic computer programming concepts through games and activities. It takes place annually during Computer Science Education Week, typically in December. Students do not need any prior experience; the games and activities are specially designed to be simple and educational.

Dimond did something slightly different for her Hour of Code class. After conducting some research, Dimond decided to use Alice, which is a block-based programming environment that allows users to create interactive animations, narratives, and games using a drag and drop interface. The Alice Project is a non-profit, whose free programming tool is used in middle schools through universities.

During four of Mr. Wades’ classes, Dimond provided instruction on how to use Alice to create animations and then let the kids practice. Dimond said she was surprised at how quickly the students were able to understand how to use Alice and start building animations. “There were maybe 5-10 minutes of instruction and the rest of the time I was just walking around helping answer students’ questions when needed.”

The week following the Hour of Code event, Mr. Wade taught students about their student rights. They used Alice to create animations depicting real court case decisions concerning student rights. The animations are available on YouTube.

This was the first Hour of Code event Dimond conducted. When asked why she thinks this event is important, she said it’s “important because it introduces computer programming concepts to students in a really fun and easy way. Which is awesome because computer programming isn’t really taught in schools.” She says that when it is taught, there can be the misconception that you have to be really good at math or science in order to do it. This is completely untrue in Dimond’s eyes, “I really wanted to show the kids that computer programming can be fun and anyone can do it. Which is pretty much the goal of Hour of Code!” She also wanted the students to learn how to use Alice so they could use it as tool for future projects.