Heads bent over computer screens, furiously typing out lines of code, members of the Computer Science (C.S.) Club gathered in The Nest to participate in Code.org’s fourth ever Hour of Code. While most schools use the programs offered by Code.org to teach classes, the C.S. Club decided to teach a one-hour course on their own coding program.
Darius Lam ’17, Co-President of the C.S. Club, said, “Our society is becoming more and more built on technology, and specifically computer technology… In other fields as well, being able to use programming is incredibly important, in the medical field, what runs M.R.I. machines, surgery robots – it’s all programming.”
The C.S. Club has hosted the Hour of Code on campus since its creation three years ago. The goal of the Hour of Code, according to members of the C.S. Club, is to teach both beginner and advanced-level coding programs and to spark interest in computer programming.
The Hour of Code is an international event that occurs each year during Computer Education Week, this year taking place from December 5-11. Code.org, a non-profit that offers free coding games and courses, established the event in order to inspire students to code by providing operational support of one-hour courses at schools that agree to participate.
Lam started the event by offering to teach a course to beginner-level coders. He soon realized, however, that only experienced coders had attended the seminar, and he proceeded to teach a coding sequence on computer-animated fireworks instead.
Miles McCain ’19, a member of C.S. Club who attended the Hour of Code, described why he believes events that teach computer programming are significant.
“I think that because our society is so dependent on technology, it’s important for everyone to at least understand how the underlying systems work. I don’t think it’s necessarily important for them to be able to create them themselves, but I think that having a general understanding is necessary, and knowing the basics of coding, is sufficient,” said McCain.
Nicholas Zufelt, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science and Faculty Advisor to the C.S. Club, supervised and supported the event.
“I think it’s extremely empowering to start [coding]. I think that it is a skill students can pick up either in class, or not in class, they can constantly get better at it, it’s something they can feel proud of, and it is applicable to essentially every area of their life in our extremely connected world,” said Zufelt.
Many members of the C.S. Club expressed that the relatively small turnout of the event was not what they had hoped for or expected. Lam described that finding beginner interest has been an ongoing challenge for the C.S. Club, as well as the irony in having no beginners show up to an event designed for teaching beginners to code.
“This is something that’s been plaguing the Computer Science Club for a while, which is, we want to make it accessible to everybody. Not just people who are super interested in math, not just people who are super interested in science,” said Lam.
Lam also described the difficulties he faces when teaching coding, and how it can be challenging to simultaneously teach students who have varying levels of experience.
“We want to keep everybody engaged and involved, and it’s difficult when people come with so many different experience levels. If they’re really experienced and they show up and we teach an intro to Python, they think it’s not interesting and they leave. But if we start out with a very advanced topic, the beginners can’t keep up and then they feel like it’s not accessible to them,” said Lam.
Despite this, Lam maintains a positive attitude.
“I think in the future [turnout] might get better, especially as our Computer Science Department gets bigger, as more people get interested in it. So yeah, disappointing now but I’m not worried,” Lam said.