Microsoft has been a long-time partner of City Year, providing critical capacity-building funds to help City Year develop new curriculum offerings and enhancing City Year’s IT infrastructure through in-kind technology support. Through Microsoft YouthSpark, a global initiative to increase access for all youth to learn computer science, Microsoft also sponsors City Year teams in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, San Jose, and Washington D.C., and is focused on advancing STEM and computer science concepts with the students City Year serves.
The importance of computer science education is being recognized nationwide, including by President Obama himself during his latest State of the Union address. During Computer Science Education week in December, City Year partnered with Microsoft and Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color, to participate in Hour of Code and introduce computer science to students.
Rose Carlson, City Year AmeriCorps member, Microsoft Team serving at Aki Kurose Middle School, Seattle, Washington
Allan La Grenade-Finch, City Year AmeriCorps member (Team Leader), Microsoft Team serving at Cardozo Education Campus, Washington, D.C.
Why do you think Hour of Code is important to Microsoft and why do you think they want to expose students to coding?
ROSE : Coding and computer science technologies are quickly becoming a fundamental job requirement throughout the United States. From my vantage point, as Seattle emerges as a technological powerhouse of our state, country, and world, the ability to code is a crucial component of being prepared for a rapidly changing computer-based society. As coding and computer science evolves, it is essential to prepare our students to be successful in the 21st century job market. And, as a highly competitive company, Microsoft wants to recruit competent, creative problem solvers to improve their software and advance their mission.
ALLAN : Microsoft understands that this country needs more coders and computer scientists among its ranks and is committed to being part of the public policy solution to this problem. Their support of and participation in initiatives like Hour of Code is their way of promoting computer science to a whole new generation of young thinkers, tinkerers, and dreamers looking to be inspired and to build brand new things for their communities.
Why is Hour of Code important to students?
ROSE : Familiarizing our students with computer programming and code is key to their future success. As a City Year AmeriCorps member at Aki Kurose Middle School in Southeast Seattle, I’ve witnessed several students (and interacted with families in the school) who do not have consistent access to computers, software, or Wi-Fi. Hour of Code provides an opportunity to expose my students to the coding resources available to them online, at community centers, and in our school.
ALLAN : Hour of Code empowers students to take charge of their ideas, express themselves in algorithms and “if” statements, and invent the future. The tutorials succeed in their accessibility: they remove much of the intimidation-factor that prevents people from even attempting to code. I hope even more of my students will have the opportunity to participate in this movement next year.
How did Hour of Code go at the school you serve at?
ALLAN : For many of our students, this was the first time they had ever had the chance to program real code and see it run live. They were encouraged to hop online at code.org to complete any one of the several coding tutorials available. Most immediately chose the Minecraft tutorial. Quite a few of them play Minecraft with their friends online, so the tutorial’s focus on manipulating signature characters and designing challenges in an environment in which they felt very familiar was highly-engaging to them.
The “friendliness” of the Hour of Code tutorials lowers the barrier to entry for students who have never even seen code before. When my students realized that their favorite games (like Minecraft) were a result of coding by developers, their interest in computer science as a subject and career surged. It was extremely helpful to have the game developers from Radiant Games present because the students were able to interact with and ask questions of real game developers who use the very same principles of coding that they were learning to develop real apps for their smartphones.
ROSE : The Hour of Code program was a hit at Aki Kurose. By incorporating characters from popular culture like Elsa from Frozen and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, my 6th graders were engaged and challenged by the content. Throughout the 60 minutes, I witnessed several of my students collaborating with one another to discuss strategies and tips for stacking the blocks of code on top of one another to help program Elsa or Luke to walk across the screen.
It was incredibly rewarding to hear the resounding “yes!” as they successfully moved their characters up, down, and around their screens. While the coding program lasted only an hour, I have capitalized on my City Year role as Afterschool Coordinator in my school to create a “coding club” where students can continue to engage in the Code.org content and improve their programming skills for 40 minutes after class.
ALLAN : At one point during the Hour of Code session at Cardozo, one of the 8th graders yelped and clapped with excitement because he had figured out his way around a tough obstacle in the Minecraft tutorial. Soon after, he realized that he had accidentally shown a little too much excitement (challenging his carefully-curated, distantly-cool preteen demeanor), but it was too late—he had already shown us his true colors!
How can Hour of Code impact students’ futures? Do you see any ripples from Hour of Code activities?
ROSE : Through my math tutoring sessions, I’ve heard that several of my 6th grade students hope to work in Seattle at Microsoft or Amazon. For them, experiencing and practicing code is more than a fun hour-long experience; it’s one step closer to achieving their dreams. I’m thankful to #HourofCode for creating a forum for my students at Aki Kurose to expand their knowledge of computer programming and be one step closer to their career goals.
ALLAN : Last year, I served in a science classroom at Cardozo Education Campus in DC. All of the students in my classroom were people of color. My service is dedicated to lifting up communities of color and exposing them to opportunities that help them fully own their lives. STEM careers and skills could be a powerful catalyst for change in urban schools. And in the DC area, there are many tech start-ups and computer science job openings that need talented DC natives to fill them. Additionally, many of my students are proud makers. That is, they are creative and obsessed with making new things that haven’t been invented before. Computer science and STEM skills offer them the chance to bring their inventive ideas to fruition in a real and meaningful way and encourage their entrepreneurial spirit.
Growing up, I always had a strong connection with science. I was constantly asking “why” of myself and everything I encountered. Exploring and building new things was how I made sense of the world around me. Years later, I brought that same curiosity with me to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an engineering college located in upstate New York, where I majored in a degree called Science, Technology, and Society. My course of study focused on the intersection of science and social politics, and as one of a very few number of African American students on campus, I knew that initiatives like Hour of Code were vital in closing the digital divide and STEM achievement gap that exists for people of color.