Learning to code
East Islip High School computer programing students discuss coding with John F. Kennedy Elementary School fifth-graders as part of the annual Hour of Code.

Photo by East Islip School District

Learning to code


EAST ISLIP—The East Islip School District kicked off its annual Hour of Code initiative last month with high school computer programing students visiting classrooms in the district’s four elementary schools – Connetquot, John F. Kennedy, Ruth C. Kinney and Timber Point – to work with second- and fifth-graders, preparing the younger students for a week of coding in the computer labs. The high school students shared games they created to demonstrate how computers and coding work.

“Our fifth-graders were fortunate to have the high school students visit to discuss coding,” said JFK principal Deborah Smith. “The computer science students shared their expertise about the syntax of computer programming, and their presentation was engaging and interactive.”

The Hour of Code is an international movement, sponsored by Code.org, aimed at teaching the fundamentals of computer coding to anyone of any age, no experience necessary. The program started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, but has since become a worldwide effort reaching tens of millions of students in over 180 countries.

It takes place each year during Computer Science Week in December, which coincides with the birthday of computing pioneer Grace Murray Hopper (Dec. 9, 1906). Those who are interested can organize an event year-round for their school or community—places of business, nonprofit organizations, extracurricular clubs, etc. Over 400 partners, including Apple, Amazon, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, College Board and Microsoft, as well as 20,000 educators worldwide, support the grassroots campaign. 

The Hour of Code at East Islip has taken place on the secondary level since its inception in 2014. The last three years, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students have participated. This year in the district, second grade was added. The elementary students used the Stitch’n’Glitch hour of code website to practice their coding skills in computer labs; the link is on the school’s website. 

“There were a lot of complicated things,” said JFK fifth-grader Daniel Carroll. “We learned about the binary code that the computers use: 0 and 1. There were so many steps that you had to do to make a character (avatar) move. You have to think like the character. It was a challenge. I thought it was a lot of fun when they visited. I want to take computer science when I’m in high school.”

High school student Kristen Bayreuther said coding is a more recent interest. “I gained interest in my sophomore year while taking AP Statistics [and] I realized I wanted to pursue topics in STEM,” she said. Bayreuther said she plans on continuing the coding experience in her senior year and hopefully in college as well. 

Smith said the fifth-graders were fully engaged when the high school students visited at the beginning of last month. “They quickly caught on to the language and syntax that the computer follows and participated in creating programs,” she said. “When each class worked on the Stitch’n’Glitch activity in the computer lab, you could hear a pin drop, as students were intensely focused on moving characters through various mazes and turns. We definitely have future cyber programmers in our midst.”

Last year, an article in Wired declared, “The Next Big Blue-Collar Job is Coding.” 

The writer of the piece, Clive Thompson, argued the stereotypical coder isn’t a Mark Zuckerberg type. He also points out that Silicon Valley only employs 8 percent of the nation’s coders. Those in the profession aren’t going to get rich, Thompson says, but it’s a stable job: 40 hours a week with benefits. 

This assessment has since come under scrutiny, due to both the prestigious colleges that teach the skill and the fact that the word “coding” is extremely vague. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects employment for computer programmers will drop 8 percent (302,200 positions) between 2016 and 2026 as businesses outsource to contractors overseas. 

A report from Burning Glass Technologies, however, found there were 7,000,000 coding job openings in 2015, with programming jobs overall growing 12 percent faster than the market average. It also found jobs requiring coding skills pay $22,000 per year more than jobs that don’t, and half of jobs in the top income quartile are in professions that require coding skills from job applicants.