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Teaching Students to Code Reaps Rewards

Dale Rensing

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In a world where software drives everything, from work and education to transportation and entertainment, developing an understanding of code and how it works at an early age is important. In addition to cultivating opportunities for future careers, teaching students to code helps them develop crucial skills that support math and processing concepts and encourages critical thinking.

HPE DEV supports teaching students to code

Under its charter, Build – Communicate – Collaborate, the HPE DEV community supports initiatives dedicated to teaching programming to young students, such as the Hour of Code™ project and the Code Club. Volunteers, like Didier Lalli and Frederic Passeron, see it as a way to encourage an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), develop future talent, and give back to the community by exposing how application programming works. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Didier and Frederic to discuss the programs and the differences between them.

How these programs work

Didier, who participated in the Code Club in Sophia Antipolis, set the stage. “While the Hour of Code and the Code Club are two different initiatives, both expose students to programming skills at an early age, doing so in a fun and engaging manner. Both programs have us work within classroom settings alongside the student’s regular math or technology teacher.”

“We introduce software programming concepts through the use of a program called Scratch,” Didier continued. “This is a graphical programming language developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that allows students to create their own interactive stories, games, and animations. After we present the software program, we describe the necessary steps used to connect to the website where they will interact with it. The students then select an activity they wish to perform.”

Frederic pointed out how the use of Scratch energized the sessions. “Scratch is so graphical and simple to use. It makes it easy for the students to understand programming concepts like 'loops', 'if/then' conditions, and iterative processes. Even students who weren’t initially excited about participating were quickly hooked. I’d say that, within ten minutes, all were thoroughly engaged.”

Frederic showed me the program, demonstrating how students could choose from different characters and make the character move across the screen using simple commands. Seeing Scratch in action, I immediately understood how this felt more like a game rather than a lesson.

How Scratch presents code to students

How Scratch presents code to students

“Learning this way sure is a far cry from how I learned to code years ago, what with reading all the documentation and writing so many lines of code, only to find that a small typo stopped my code from actually working.”

Comparing the different programs

While Didier worked with the Code Club, Frederic volunteered with the Hour of Code project. The main difference between the two programs is really about reach. The Code Club boasts over 13,000 clubs around the world in over 160 different countries and runs all year long. The Hour of Code touches millions of students in over 180 countries and is held during Computer Science Week, usually in December or January. Whether a volunteer works with one group or the other generally depends on local availability. However, there are some other points of differentiation between the programs.

For instance, the Code Club is sponsored by Raspberry Pi Foundation and mixes volunteers from different companies (such as HPE, ARM, Cadence, Orange Labs, and SAP) to deliver one-hour sessions to the same class over ten weeks. For the first 5 or 6 sessions, the students engage in pre-defined coursework. The next 4 weeks are dedicated to a project where students are given free rein to let their imagination run wild and design their own game.

The Hour of Code, on the other hand, is backed by Google and tends to be taught by volunteers from a single company, such HPE. Its format is based on 1.5 hour sessions for groups of 30 students. A single volunteer cycle consists of four sessions, allowing the volunteers to teach a total of 120 students.

“Another thing that sets the Hour of Code apart,” explains Frederic, “is that it actively promotes diversity. This program works at increasing gender, racial, and socioeconomic diversity in tech education and, by extension, in the tech workforce. I see that sometimes girls are shy about their math and technical skills. Hour of Code points out that female developers are rare, yet they are in high demand by companies. It encourages girls and others who may not see themselves as fitting into ‘geek’ roles to seek out these types of careers.”

Join HPE DEV in giving of your time and talent

Teaching kids to code doesn’t just benefit students. Volunteers like Didier and Frederic find it rewarding as well. “Understanding how a PC, tablet, or phone operates is a good thing for all kids, even those that don’t end up working in the tech field. Removing the veil of magic behind how things work helps them understand how their involvement can have an effect,” Didier explained. “Hopefully, they will apply this newfound self-awareness to the world we all live in and strive to make it better.”

“For volunteers,” he continued, “it’s very interesting to see how kids react to problems; how some are quick to get it and some more interested in designing icons than spending time on the logic of their program. While each student is different, it’s obvious that a number of them already show a real attraction to software development.”

Frederic expressed how participating in activities like this helped him realize another ambition. “When I was in college, I studied to become an English teacher. Life intervened, and I found myself working for HPE instead. Volunteering for Hours of Code helped to finally close that loop, offering me the opportunity to teach.” As Frederic continued, he pointed out other things that attracted him to the program. “I think that the Hour of Code program is particularly important in that it promotes diversity. It does so by telling young girls that they can play an important part in the future of code, since female coders are rare and therefore, very valuable.”

For those interested in volunteering for Code Club teaching opportunities, connect with your local Code Club. Volunteers for Hour of Code should connect with local schools to learn how to participate. As an additional benefit for HPE employees, the HPE Gives program provides credit for HPE volunteers for programs like these.

Giving has long been a key component of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise company culture, tracing back to the values of the company founders, Bill Hewlett and David Packard. As David Packard once said, “The betterment of society is not a job to be left to a few. It's a responsibility to be shared by all.” That’s why HPE DEV supports initiatives like these. Check out our HPE DEV Slack #hpedev-volunteers channel to discuss how we all can make a difference by sharing our skills and knowledge with others. Connect on Twitter with Didier and Frederic to follow their adventures with HPE DEV.