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Belmont High School Students Spin off “Hour of Code” Week with a New Take on Apps

Belmont Hour of CodeBelmont High School students are learning to write computer codes, joining millions of students, celebrities, and one U.S. President.  Engineering and Computer Science teacher Diane Brancazio hosted the first “Hour of Code” event at Belmont High School (BHS) on December 15 but with a twist.  Brancazio asked students to write an app for an Android smart phone/device using MIT App Inventor

Participants were able to learn, design, program and upload a working app at the end of the hour.  This event was open to all BHS students with no coding experience necessary.  Students from her “Intro to Coding” class served as ambassadors to help students prepare their code.  Brancazio said the simple apps she will teach include “Magic 8 Ball”, “Whack a Mole”, and Digital Doodle”, and students completing that can move on to other available apps on their own. 

Students used an emulator which acts as a virtual device.  It shows you coding in one window while another window shows what would happen on your phone.  Brancazio says the event allows students to try out a new skill that emphasizes problem solving, logical thinking, and creativity and shows them how to create, not simply use, new technologies.  “Getting students exposed to computer science as a tool or a career, the same way one would teach a student to play a clarinet or to write an essay, is essential in getting them to understand it can enrich your career and life,” says Brancazio.   “Computers are in every occupation.”

The worldwide launch of an “Hour of Code” from Code.Org, held during national Computer Science Education Week, promoted that anyone can code.  President Obama kicked off the week by learning to write an hour of JavaScript at a White House event to help support and expand access to computer science education in K-12 schools.   The week began December 7, as designated by the U.S. House of Representatives to support the awareness of computer science as a career and recognizing computing as integral to our society, industry and commerce.  Congress chose the week to coincide with the birthday of Grace Murray Hopper, born on December 9, 1906, who is one of the first females in the field of computer science.  The Resolution says Hopper “engineered new programming languages and pioneered standards for computer systems which laid the foundation for many advancements in computer science.”

Superintendent John Phelan, Assistant Superintendent Janice Darias, and BHS Principal Daniel Richards were at the event, observing students in the room, who got right to the task at hand.  The room was silent except for the clicking of the keyboard and the occasional student saying “somebody, help” or “oh, click on the red button.”

Upon hearing the high school was hosting an hour of coding, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) came by to try it herself, “Working in the Science and Technology Committee redoubled my interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education,” Clark says.  “I came here to see the students and teaching, and it’s a great opportunity to try to learn basic coding.”  Clark was working on the app “Mole Mash”, and confessed, “I’m very glad to have someone to help me along!”

Why to code?Brancazio says computer programming is necessary for creating scientific models and simulations, analyzing huge amounts of data in healthcare, retail or politics, creating apps and interfaces for technologies, robotics and machine control, as well as maintaining information systems.  Regardless of their field of study or occupation, some knowledge is necessary to prepare students for the 21 century.  U.S. News and World Report rated “Software Developer” the top job for 2014, and the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of software developers will grow 22 percent from 2012-2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.  They cite the main reason in this growth is the increased demand for computer software.  “Most students go to college without this skill,” says Brancazio.  “If they are not exposed to the growing need, they will have missed an opportunity they didn’t know about.”

HOUR of Code Presentation

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