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Eighth-grader Aaliyah Roberts works within a computer-programming game in Patricia Nixon’s science class. Nearly 300 Glens Falls Middle School students spent time programming HTML during the national Hour of Code event in December.

Hour of Code brings HTML to Middle School

December 31, 2013 — Classrooms and computer labs were buzzing in December, as middle school students got “Lost in Space” with Angry Birds, Space Zombies, Sketch Racer and other game apps—and teachers were handing out accolades instead of detentions. The typically “playtime” games turned into serious lessons about computer science, as nearly 300 students participated in the nation-wide Hour of Code event in mid-December.

The idea behind the event is to expose students to basic computer programming by having them work with HTML code for an hour. Every Glens Falls seventh-grader and many eighth-graders spent class time working in the language, after viewing tutorials available at code.org.

“Code is running our lives,” says science teacher Jason Brechko, who interrupted regular curriculum, signed out laptop carts, and helped his students walk through their first coding experiences. “Just understanding how that works, hopefully, would result in a more meaningful interaction between people and their devices. At a higher level, it might inspire students to pursue it, either recreationally or as a career.”

Patricia Nixon’s students wrote lines of binary code that eventually made a design with the initials of their names. Mr. Brechko’s students fit sections of code together like pieces of a puzzle to make characters run, jump, fly, and more.

The code tutorials and game-based projects help students understand computerized devices and career opportunities within the field. “Some kids went home and started writing apps,” said Mr. Brechko. “And then they got stymied, so now the question is—when you hit that stumbling block, are you going to keep going? Perseverance is part of the lesson.”

“Since our lives are on computers, we should know how to work computers,” said 7th-grader John Andre.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said 7th-grader Trenton Girard. “You can do anything. You can design an app for an iPhone or Droid.”

And students are learning more than just computer science. “Within the new Common Core standards for English Language Arts, students need to be able to do procedural writing—that is, write a logical process someone can follow,” explains Mr. Brechko. “It’s surprisingly difficult for kids to do that if they’ve never done it before. They don’t understand the specificity of steps. And that’s exactly what code is—breaking a task down into a series of steps in a language that the end user understands.”