Teaching kids to code: Oakland students take on 'Hour of Code' challenge

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This week students around the country and around the world were challenged to up their computer programming game as part of "Computer Science Education Week."

At Hillcrest School in Oakland, students grades K-8 took part in the global event which was centered around a special "Hour of Code" campaign.

"The Hour of Code is at its core not about learning a brand new skill in just one hour. One hour isn’t enough to learn how to code. It's about increasing access to computer science by breaking stereotypes and opening doors," says officials with Code.org, which is organizing the campaign.

The non-profit Code.org seeks to increase the presence of women and underrepresented minorities in the tech field and to make computer science as accessible in schools as other subjects like math and science.

Last October, Apple CEO Tim Cook highlighted the importance of teaching students coding during an appearance in France, where he said learning this skill is more important than learning English as a second language, noting coding "is a language that you can [use to] express yourself to 7 billion people in the world."

"I think that coding should be required in every public school in the world," Cook said.

Hillcrest School’s technology instructor Robert Rodriguez says that message is especially important in a city like Oakland, with its proximity to some of the biggest tech companies in the world.

“To be so close to Silicon Valley to not have computer science in classrooms is really disheartening,” said Rodriguez.

“The Hour of Code and computer science education week is about bringing awareness to computer science and starting at a really young age to give them a better opportunity to become a computer programmer,” he added.

Hillcrest’s week-long coding event was marked with a series of activities to teach and practice computer programming.

Kids in kindergarten through 8th grade used programming games and exercises to create art, fashion, as well as some very unique, personalized emojis.

Kindergartners worked in partnership with older kids as part of the school’s “Tech Buddies” program.

“Our kindergarten students, they were so pumped up to show another group of buddies what they've learned throughout the year,” said Rodriguez.

For some of the older students, the “Hour of Code” week also provided a look into how computer programming skills could play into their career path.

“Our middle school students were excited to see all these different tech professionals come in and show them more than coding, to get them excited about the tech history and hopefully they would look at that industry when choosing their profession,” said Rodriguez.

This week, Hillcrest also received visits from other community members celebrating the students’ efforts.

The Oakland A's beloved mascot Stomper spent part of the day with students, watching them on their computers showing off their newly honed tech skills.

Radio station Wild 94.9 sent out crew members from its popular morning program, The JV Show to highlight Hillcrest’s “Hour of Code” week.

And while the “Hour of Code” program seeks to introduce and teach programming concepts like loops and basic debugging, organizers hope it will start a movement to make computer science education a part of everyday learning and also change some people's attitudes when it comes to coding. 

“A much more important goal is for students and teachers to learn that computer science is fun — you can start at any age, in any classroom, even if you don’t have a computer,” says Code.org.

Rodriguez urged parents, students, and educators to take the “Hour of Code” challenge, using coding games and programs. (A popular one among his students is madewithcode.com.)

He invited participants who complete the challenge to post a photo on social media and tag @hillcrestoak.