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Taking an Hour of Code break during virtual learning

Across the country this week, City Year AmeriCorps members are introducing students to the world of computer science by adapting annual “Hour of Code” activities to online learning, part of efforts to leverage established afterschool programming to keep students engaged despite COVID-19 disruptions.

This year, many AmeriCorps members are leading “Hour of Code’’ virtual events during breaks in the online school day, instead of offering them in person after traditional school hours end. They’re also encouraging students learning from home to invite family members to join them on projects—like animating dance parties—designed to entertain while teaching the basics of coding. City Year kicks off “Hour of Code’’ activities during Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 7-13, and holds them throughout the year.

“We’re making the virtual space exciting and fun, and pulling our students and families into this”’ says LaTasha Golden, City Year’s national afterschool specialist. “The events also give students a brain break, and help battle screen time fatigue from class lectures, while letting students choose a self-directed activity based on their own interests.”

City Year has worked for years with partner public schools to provide extended learning programs, including “Hour of Code,’’ to increase opportunities for students in communities burdened by systemic barriers to education, including a lack of sufficient school funding and staff for computer science courses. During the pandemic, City Year is adapting these already established programs for online learners, creating an additional tool to engage students in activities that strengthen their connection to their school communities.

Fun events like “Hour of Code” can provide students with a gateway to future learning and careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), Golden says.

Expanding Hour of Code

The pandemic has magnified educational inequities related to computer science, according to, the nonprofit behind “Hour of Code,’’ which has spread to more than 180 countries since its introduction in 2013. Fewer than half of U.S. high schools teach basic computer science, and Black and Latinx students are less likely to attend schools with those courses. When the pandemic hit, many of those same students lacked computer hardware or internet access to take classes online after schools closed, the group says. At the public schools City Year partners with, 90% of learners are students of color and 90% are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

City Year has expanded or initiated “Hour of Code” activities at many partner schools, in part by working with its National Strategic Partner Comcast NBCUniversal over the past three years to provide more opportunities for students to build digital and computer science skills. In addition to “Hour of Code,” Comcast NBCUniversal also sponsors Digital Experiences that take place throughout the entire school year for students at City Year partner schools in 11 cities. In 2019, Comcast NBCUniversal-sponsored teams provided more than 6,600 hours of computer science and coding experiences to students across the country.

At the Roosevelt Middle School in Philadelphia, Comcast NBCUniversal has helped City Year provide computer science and coding opportunities at the school beginning with the purchase of Chromebooks two years ago.  Since then, City Year has expanded “Hour of Code” activities at the school, purchased afterschool computer science curricula for students and trained AmeriCorps members to implement the program. This year, the team will be holding STEM enrichment clubs for students virtually and participating in “Hour of Code” activities throughout the year.

This week, hourlong “Hour of Code’’ tutorials will help students explore a new skill, demystify coding and help them imagine the possibility of becoming a computer scientist. AmeriCorps members will talk to students about what they learned, how it feels to program, and the many careers linked to computer science, Golden says.

Advancing educational equity through computer science

“Students are using those 60 minutes to create something,’’ Golden says. ‘’They can say ‘look at this cool game or this dance party or this virtual garden that I created’—that’s something students can be proud of when they finish.’’

Along with “Hour of Code,’’ City Year organizes school enrichment programs throughout the year related to STEAM. While computer related jobs are in demand, fewer than a quarter of U.S. 12th graders attend schools with college-level Advanced Placement computer science courses, which position students to earn college credit while getting a foundation in computing. While high school AP computer science students are twice as likely as other students to try computer science in college, Black and Latinx students are underrepresented among those learners, a sign of how lack of access to educational opportunities has a ripple effect throughout students’ schooling.

“If you don’t make it accessible, you don’t create an environment where students believe computer science is something they can do,” Golden says. “Coding gives students the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I can do this. I can create this—and now I have all these other possibilities when it comes to doing something in STEAM that I haven’t thought about because I didn’t have access before.”

Read more about how City Year is working to address systemic inequities in education.

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