Friday, 12 December 2014 11:59

Review: the Apple Store ‘Hour of Code’ experience Featured

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Apple hosted its first ‘Hour of Code’ special event at Apple Stores around the world on 11 December 2014, and I attended the hour at Apple’s Broadway Store in Sydney.

Code.org and its ‘Hour of Code’ project is ‘a movement to make computer science accessible to app students around the world’.

The Hour of Code wants to reach 100 million students by the end of 2014, with nearly 70 million having participated at the time of publication, with 3,798,649,167 lines of code written thus far.

The ‘Hour of Code’ workshop that I attended did as its description advertised: offered a basic introduction to computer science and demystifying what code is while showing that anyone can learn the basics of programming.

At 40 years old, I was the oldest ‘student’ in the class of, from memory, 8 people, with my fellow students from ages of about 6 or 7 through to a 13 year old young lady, with 3 girls and 5 boys (with me as one of the ‘boys’).

Several of the children’s parents were there to oversee the proceedings and encourage their children to learn about coding, which was great to see - no doubt the parents were as excited as the children to be in the Apple store learning about the basics of writing your own programs.

There were two Apple Store retail staff leading the hour, a young lady who was the group leader, and a young man, with both helping students as required when we were engaged in the first ‘Hour of Code’ lesson.

We were first introduced to the class, and after each student briefly introduced themselves, our group leader proceeded to explain coding and ask us a few questions as to what we thought coding was for and all about.

Then we watched the 2 minute 23 second ‘Hour of Code’ intro video that I embedded into my earlier story on the Hour of Code event, and which is embedded below.

We were all then issued iPad Mini 3 models encased in the light blue iPad Mini case and a set of Apple EarPod headphones so we could hear the various sounds our coding game made as we learned the very basics of code.

We did this by going to the Hour of Code site which took us to a game featuring characters from Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies and ‘Scrat’ from the Ice Age movie, which you can visit here from the main page with the initial ‘Learn an Hour of Code’ game lessons, where you’ll see a link to the aforementioned tutorial we went through, preceded by a learning game called ‘Code with Anna and Elsa’, the two main characters from the Disney movie Frozen, as well as other beginner modules.

The Angry Birds/Zombies/Scrat learning game that we played with took us through 20 short and sweet lessons that helped us learn with ‘blocks’ of code that anyone can quickly learn and understand.

Three students managed to finish before me, although I did receive a call from a friend wanting tech support which sucked up a couple of minutes of time before I was able to tell them I would have to help them with their non-urgent problem ‘tomorrow’ (which is today as I type), but even so, the kids were smart and got the hang of it all pretty quickly.

There were some tricky bits when we got to ‘repeating’ blocks as well as the ‘if/then’ blocks towards the end of the 20 short visual gamified lessons but the two Apple staff teachers were on-hand to demystify and give hints as required so we could figure it out for ourselves and have that little ‘a-ha’ learning moment.

After about 45 minutes everyone most students had managed to get through the lesson and we then had a short debrief about what we learned and what it all meant.

We were all then encouraged to keep on learning with more free lessons at Code.org’s ‘Beyond One Hour’ page with 9 more learning modules for students of various ages, including a section for teachers, with each module having a range of sub-modules for ongoing learning.

We then handed back the iPad Mini 3's on which we had enjoyed the Hour of Code experience, with Apple generously giving away the brand new $35 set of Earpods each student had opened up and used as an encouraging 'thank you' for having attended and successfully taken part in the event. 

The Hour of Code site also invited us to post our achievement to Twitter or Facebook, which made me remark innocently that virtually every student in the class likely was not allowed to have a Facebook account as they were under 13, but naturally a proud parent or a teacher could have entered in their Facebook or Twitter details to share the achievement.

I posted my certificate to Facebook and Twitter - here’s what it looks like (you'll get a larger one that you can print out if you want for your kids):

It was a very worthy experience and the kids loved it - I’m sure I saw some future app makers at the event whose lives and destinies may well have been changed by a simple yet fun coding class for boys and girls.

I asked one of Apple's corporate spokespersons after the event by email if it was planning more Hour of Code events, seeing as the one I attended went so well, and was told that there weren’t any announcements on additional coding workshops as yet, but that both the Apple Store in Sydney’s CBD and the Brisbane store host regular Meet the Developer events which would include insight into coding, and that people should keep an eye on the Apple Store retail site for more info.

I can only imagine this means Apple is looking at hosting more such Hour of Code events in the future, given that every Apple Store in Sydney save Penrith and Charlestown in Newcastle was completely booked solid, with only two spots in Penrith and only one in Charlestown as of late Wednesday evening, the day before yesterday’s (11 December 2014) Hour of Code event.

Kudos to Apple for hosting the events worldwide and here’s hoping there are more such events in the not-too-distant future!

Finally, Code.org isn’t the only organisation wanting to get more kids involved in coding - there’s also Code Club, which iTWire colleague Peter Dinham wrote about yesterday, with Code Club presumably wanting to capitalise on Code.org’s Hour of Code publicity.

Code Club is a global organisation run by volunteers, with 2728 code clubs worldwide. The Australian site is here, while the global site is here.

Code Club is sponsored by the Telstra Foundation in Australia, with Code Club aiming to ‘give Australian children the chance to learn to code by providing project materials and a volunteering framework that supports the running of after-school coding clubs’.

Looking at the club locations in Sydney, they all appear to be in schools, so - if you or your children want to learn to code, there’s a lot of fun help out there to do it.

Cracking the tech code can be done at a higher level if you know how to code, rather than just how to be a user of technology, so, why not encourage your kids - or yourself - to learn some code!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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