By Frances Bradburn
Everyday Education 

Hour Of Code Brings Programming To Classroom


Students in the Brevard Middle School Media Center observe their code in action, as their programs direct robots and other devices through a sequence of actions.

You probably saw the wonderful photo story of Pisgah Forest Elementary students spelling out "PFE Codes" on the recreation department parking lot in the Dec. 7 issue of The Transylvania Times. They were kicking off a worldwide event, Computer Science Education Week's Hour of Code. Transylvania County School's lofty goal. Introduce every child in the school system to computer coding, better known as computer programming.

Yes, every student in every school here in Transylvania County was given an opportunity to learn how to write code. It was a massive undertaking, led by the school system's instructional technology staff and enthusiastically supported by each school's media and technology personnel and classroom teachers.

First, the district's instructional technology facilitators (ITFs) created a website that populated all the resources needed for a successful Hour of Code class. Since this was a national education event, they were greatly assisted by resources provided by the national nonprofit organization ( Its goal is "to expand access to computer science, especially to women and underrepresented students of color."

School library media coordinators and classroom teachers used a variety of resources based on their grade levels, K-12, and their students' abilities both as readers and in using the computers. The youngest students participated in "unplugged" activities, meaning they did not actually use the computers. For instance, at Brevard Elementary School, kindergartners were introduced to computer science via this activity as described by the school's ITF, Alyse Hollingsworth:

"After watching a video 'Think Like a Computer,' the students instructed the robot (Mrs. Cali) to get a book off the shelf. Students then took turns at the Smartboard to practice dragging and dropping code as well as entering code to move the angry bird through the maze to the pig. After all the students had an opportunity to participate, Mrs. Cali found a letter from Santa telling students that an elf had left some items (Santa's hat, stocking, and red Christmas balls) in the Media Center that were needed on the Polar Express. The students needed to give instructions to one student to pick them up and put them by the snowman so Santa's elf could retrieve them that night. Students then lined up facing the stage and gave one student specific instructions on how to "pick" up the items. Once all the items were with the snowman, the second letter from Santa was read, where they found he had left them a treat of hot chocolate.

"The students really enjoyed the activity while learning how the computer has to have specific, detailed instructions in order to operate correctly."

Older elementary students used the computer to learn to code by dragging and dropping blocks of code in the correct sequence to perform a task. These activities featured characters from popular computer games like Minecraft and Angry Birds and movies like "Frozen" and "Star Wars."

For instance, students began their introduction to coding on the computer by figuring out how to move blocks a certain number of times to knock over the puffy bird, just like in the Angry Birds game so many of them have played at home.

Things got more complicated as they moved to activities based on the Disney movie "Frozen." Students created snowflakes by programming angles, an assignment that used their math and critical thinking skills.

Some students learned enough to create their own game app, which they were able to send to a parent's phone. They could actually play a game that they had designed - on Dad's phone. Talk about incentive.

All these activities, and TCS's emphasis on the importance of this event, were designed to introduce students to JavaScript, currently the most popular and widespread computer programming language, as well as to spark student interest in a possible career.

But it's so much more than that. Coding helps students learn to solve problems, to figure out where things have gone wrong. It's probably far more satisfying to determine why the angry bird didn't make it to the pig than where you made the error in a column of figures - and possibly more difficult! Students are using their reading and math skills in new ways, showing them the relevance of their class work.

Coding also requires persistence. If you don't get the angles correct, your snowflake doesn't look like a gorgeous, icy creation, so you must try over and over again until each and every angle is just right. Students don't have to do this problem-solving and troubleshooting alone, however. They can do it with a partner or in teams, called pair programming, thus helping them learn that important life skill, teamwork.

It certainly took teamwork to make TCS's Hour of Code a success! Media and instructional technology staff, administrators, every classroom teacher and teacher assistant supported the effort; every student reaped the rewards of this teamwork, persistence, problem-solving, and troubleshooting. It was fun. It was challenging. It was all about learning. It's what education is all about.

(Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.)

For these Rosman Elementary students, celebrating the completion of their programs also means proudly showing off their "Hour Of Code" certificates. (Photos courtesy Transylvania County Schools, Instructional Technology Facilitators Vera Cubero and Cathy Zandecki)


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