Tag Archives: Hour of Code

Humptydumpty(200, 198, 200, 305);


Does this drawing remind you of a certain nursery rhyme — you know, the one about an egg, a wall and a “great fall”?

img_1467Humpty Dumpty immediately came to my mind on Wednesday afternoon when I looked at the drawing, which was created by Chris, a student in my weekly computer coding class.

“Humpty who?” he said.

“Humpty Dumpty!” I replied. “I can’t believe you figured out so quickly how to draw him.”

Chris, who you see here in the photo, had no idea who I was talking about, either in my halting Romanian or in English, so I searched on Google and showed him this video:

Several of his friends began watching, too. None of them had ever heard of Humpty Dumpty either, but they were impressed that Chris had unknowingly recreated a famous character. Here’s the code he wrote to do this:


As you can see from the green banner at the top, they were all doing a lesson on Khan Academy, the free website that offers excellent tutorials on everything from algebra to history. My students have been learning JavaScript, the popular programming language. The site guided them to write simple commands for ellipses and rectangles, which they then resized and moved around their screens to form snowmen and robots. Chris took it a step further and created Humpty.


I began teaching computer coding at our local library a month ago, using the Hour of Code website to challenge local students to write simple commands for the computer game Minecraft. They enjoyed it so much that they moved on to similar modules based on Star Wars and Frozen. Then several of the boys said they wanted to learn JavaScript, so we began working our way through some of the lessons on Khan Academy and other sites.

img_1472Note that I said “boys.” My biggest disappointment has been my inability to attract more girls to the class. I asked the librarians to help recruit girls, and they’ve reached out to a nearby school, but so far we haven’t had much luck, even when I offered to teach a separate class for girls. I asked the girls you see here to participate on Wednesday, but they were too busy checking out a dance site on Facebook.

img_1477Not all of the boys are interested, either. The one you see here programmed the first snowman with us but then, when I was busy on the other side of the room, switched to a computer game featuring shooting and soldiers.  You can also see part of the computer next to him, where a girl is checking out a photo of other girls dressed up for a performance. Just outside the photo are computers where several other boys were also playing action games. I did convince one older boy to try Hour of Code, which he enjoyed, but after competing the module he switched to Facebook and YouTube instead of moving on to the next module.

Since I’m learning JavaScript along with the students, generally teaching myself each lesson one day in advance, it’s probably just as well that I don’t have a huge class. I’m barely keeping up with Chris and the other boys as it is. Now that we’ve all learned a bit about drawing, they want to try creating a simple computer game.

We’ll be starting that next week. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t stop us.

The Older Guy ‘Teaches’ Coding

Can a guy in his sixties who has never studied modern computer programming introduce a group of computer-savvy young people to software coding — and do it in a foreign language?

That’s what I did on Friday at our library in Ialoveni, Moldova. (A few hours later, they posted this story about it on Facebook; the live version offers an English translation):


I got the students started with Hour of Code, an international initiative through which millions of young people have begun learning about programming. My group watched a couple of inspirational videos and then began writing mock code for the popular computer game Minecraft. Within a few minutes, they were clicking away, instructing their characters to move in different directions, shear sheep and search for treasure.


Several of them finished the 14 tasks in less than an hour. All were engrossed, smiling when they completed a puzzle and giving me high fives as I walked around the room to help them out. Before we even finished, the librarian told me we should start a weekly Hour of Code club, which we’ve scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Next week we’ll write code for a Star Wars game. Then we’ll do the “Frozen” module. After that, perhaps we’ll learn some JavaScript together.

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Launched in 2013, Code.org is a nonprofit organization focused on making computer programming more accessible. Its videos feature Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and other famous programmers, as well as President Obama, actors, sports stars and others, all emphasizing that coding isn’t as hard as you may think.

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-9-48-31-amThat’s a message more young people, especially girls, need to hear in our own country, Moldova and around the world. Coding is an increasingly essential skill. Especially in poorer countries, it can open the door to participating in the global economy. Here in Moldova, older girls can also take part in GirlsGoIT, a two-week program through which they learn about web applications, entrepreneurship and potential career paths. Around the world, Peace Corps is deeply involved in the Let Girls Learn program championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Back when I was running Duke’s news office, one of my colleagues wrote an article called Computer Science Looks Beyond Nerds, describing how the university redesigned its introductory course to attract more women, students of color, liberal arts majors and others who don’t fit the stereotype of programmers. Hour of Code is pursuing the same mission internationally. Its resources make it easy for people to serve as mentors regardless of their own level of coding experience.

Even if you’re “not exactly retired” or majored in American history like me, do yourself a favor and try some of the modules yourself. They’re fun. And if you know any students in Ialoveni — especially girls — looking for something interesting to do on Wednesday afternoons, send them my way. We still have a few spots open.