Cathi Stetson, computer science teacher at Oyster River High School, has been coding since 1978. Every year, she participates in the Hour of Code initiative, a global introduction to computer science, but this Monday, December 3rd, was unique. Students had the privilege of spending the Hour of Code with U.S. Senator from NH, Maggie Hassan.
Hassan welcomed the students by saying, “one of the reasons I’m here is to make sure all students across the country understand not only how to code, but how important coding and technical skills are. In the economy we’re building today, this set of skills is going to be essential to pretty much anything you decide to do. I hear from employers all the time how much of a shortage they have for technical skills.”
The plan was for Stetson to teach a class how she would normally teach her coding students, and for Hassan to be one with of students. The hour started by “coding” without computers. Stetson invited Joe Morrell (‘20) to the front of the room to teach a dance move called “flossing” to imitate how code seems complicated but can be broken down into simple steps. Anyone who has taken classes with Stetson knows that dancing and singing during class is common practice.
Next, Stetson projected a video tutorial so students and Hassan could begin the Hour of Code activities. The activities are organized on the website by available technology, grade level, coding ability, length, and topic, and are available in 45 languages. Stetson instructed the class to work on the “Dance Party” activity which involved coding the dance moves, colors, size, and rotation of different animated animals.
Hassan was able to try coding for the first time herself. Her favorite part was learning from the students. “It was helpful for me to understand what time you need as a student to experiment with this and understand at an intuitive level,” she said. Spending time in class with students is important to Hassan because she is able to see what schools need, what kinds of resources are needed to do this work, and what questions students have. “It’s necessary to learn what we as policy makers can do to make coding more integrated to our curriculum, and make sure all students can have access to this learning experience,” she said.
Access to this learning experience is important because being technically proficient is going to be critical for, “all of you to build the kinds of lives you want, and build a better future for yourselves and for your country,” said Hassan.
The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to increase participation in the field of computer science. It has since become the largest learning event in history with 660,419,250 people participating from 180+ countries, and 193,272 events registered in 2018.
Suzanne Filippone felt this experience to be valuable because it brought, “awareness for students and highlighted future opportunities.” According to Laura Nickeron, a computer science professor at University of New Hampshire who helped out at Stetson’s Hour of Code, in New Hampshire there are about 1,200 jobs open in computer sciences. A lot of those jobs don’t even require a 2 year degree, and many companies are paying people to go to college to learn to code.
Laura Nickeron also used to teach coding to high schoolers. She loves seeing the kinds of students that can be successful in these positions. She said, “I had some really talented students who had Ds and Fs in other classes. [Coding] allowed them to be creative in a way that they hadn’t been been able to before.”
Coding with Hassan was a moment that brought Stetson’s experiences with the Senator full circle. Stetson ran into Hassan at Market Basket a couple years ago and they had a great conversation about girls learning how to code, so Stetson was excited to continue this conversation. According to the Hour of Code website, women only make up 20-25% of people participating in computer science high school courses, university courses, and the workforce. During the Hour of Code, female students make up 50% of all participants.
Stetson’s conversation with Hassan in the market highlights her welcoming nature. Lily Doody (‘20) participated in Hour of Code and her favorite part was watching her classmates answer questions Hassan had about the coding activity. She said, “I really enjoyed our time with Senator Hassan; she was very sweet and down to Earth and I am very happy she is representing our state.”
Stetson felt similarly. “Everyone asked if I was nervous, but I wasn’t. I think it was because she’s so kind and accessible,” said Stetson.
Hassan concluded with, “in another visit when we aren’t focused on coding I would love to hear about what students love about school, about what you all think we should consider moving forward, and what you hope and dream about your future.”
Check out https://hourofcode.com/us to learn more about Hour of Code!