Hour of Code- takes more than an hour to prep

Before this gets started let me say I’m not an educator of children. Yes I’ve taught a lot of fairly motivated adults but everything I learned about children has been either as a paramedic which means extremely ill kids or as a parent and that doesn’t give me a lot of… any authority to speak about them especially not educating them. But I had a task and it seemed easy enough.

Let me also give the highest of fives to teachers. My educational experience sucked and based on my anecdotal experience I really haven’t had much faith in teachers. But the last couple of years changed that and this was definitely a part of that. Teachers are amazing. After half a day of it I had more appreciation for teaching as a profession than in my previous decades. Seriously it’s a calling and well under appreciated for it’s value.

Now on to the main story.

Last year was my first year participating in hour of code. I had just gotten “laid off” and started my own business so was ready to get started with doing some cool new things. The email came in and I said that sounds awesome so I signed up and waited for some responses.

The responses came in one from a high school programming teacher, one from an elementary school in an extremely affluent suburb and the other from my kids school. The back and forth wasn’t really informative so my feeling was that I was headed there to help them work through the steps in hour of code. First I did them all then I made my kids then 8 and 4 work through one series together with me so I thought if I can get my kids to move Minecraft Steve I basically have it together.

Since no one had really asked me what I was going to be presenting I quickly put together an simple demo on SQL Server using Peanut Butter and Jelly then went to Michael’s and picked up some jars and foam because I figured hey some physical objects to play the part of virtual objects would be interesting.

I suck at art. I don’t mean I’m not good in the way that some fish for complements I’m confident that people really thought my kids did the work. I didn’t say so maybe it was better that way.

I’m going to end the prep story here because the details are kind of unimportant to what I think would make your hour of code awesome. The following is the list I’m going to send out. Let me know if you want to add or subtract.

  1. send a request to all the parents and see if any are interested. If they want to help but aren’t programmers great let them champion the cause and work with us. This is really for EVERYONE. Parent involvement means great things, let them help you. Not all of them know about Hour of Code.
  2. It’s for EVERYONE. I get that some kids probably don’t have what it takes to become hardcore programmers but they can definitely benefit from Hour of Code. Step one is removing the magic curtain from technology and step two is seeing who pulls the next thread. Hacking starts with breaking things as does programming. I bet you’d be surprised at who might fall in love with Javascript if given a shot.
  3. Be really clear about what you want. A lot of us programmers have ASD and we can be EXTREMELY concrete. If you want 27.5 minutes of demo on something fun like Dot and Dash then 22.12 minutes of a raspberrypi phtobooth taking pictures and serving them locally great, just say that. Do you want a weather center via an Arduino? How about a math lesson using real world examples? All awesome but it takes time and inspiration so ask.
  4. You have to vet the presentation before it happens. If you’re not just working through the demo then you need input. We are PROgrammers not PROFESSIONAL Educators and there’s a massive gap in many cases. I’m not saying programmers are idiots but like a fish climbing a tree the expertise may not transfer. Both of my presentations were not great fits for the audience and venue. One was under their level and the other was over their level so both became something totally different on the fly. I’m a consultant and that’s not new for me but you don’t want that. Well prepared demos with well understood objectives always go better than winging it especially with people who don’t work with kids. Good presentations take up to 30 hours for a single hour of presentation. Divide that over weeks and realize that starting now matters. How familiar are you with Belphegor’s prime? Do you want to have to explain that amazing number to parents who are wondering why the crown princes of Hell have been introduced in math? No, so vet it.
  5. If you need help with the material engage way ahead of time. It’s October 1st and if you’re going to do this in December, now’s the time. When you engage you get to see if the programmer has the right level of patience. Some do some don’t. If they don’t treat you awesomely, choose someone else. Remember this is introduction to code and not for people who know anything. If they can’t get you an adult through it, just imagine the frustration with kids.
  6. You need a champion. You don’t want to bring in a programmer to put on a pedestal. You want one that makes tech and math cool but also elevates the teacher. We go back to servers and you stay with our kids. You matter more than us and you’re going to impact more lives for math and technology. We want to help but you’re the party leader, we’re the supporting character not the main. In a Lord of the Rings Analogy you’re Gandalf leading the dwarves and hobbit while we’re Elrond. Maybe that’s what teaching feels like.
  7. Background checks, dress code and other stuff. It matters. Some programmers wear business attire, most wear some sort of business casual and others wear shorts, yoga pants and flip flops. Plan for the background check process, have the link ready, Have a link to a dress code if the school has one.

“Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” ― Paul Brandt.


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