Mackenzie Cofall is thrilled to be learning computer coding at school. She knows the skill will come in handy one day. The fifth-grader wants to be a graphic designer when she grows up.
Mackenzie, 11, and her classmates have been practicing computer coding for years. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Michael C. Riley Elementary School and Early Childhood Center get to learn coding in Tammy Murphy’s computer lab.
Murphy uses Code.org to teach her students the skill. Code.org is a nonprofit organization that aims to expand access to computer science education, and increase the number of women and minorities working in the field.
Every year during Computer Science Education Week, which is the first week of December, Code.org hosts a global online event called Hour of Code to encourage students to practice computer programming for an hour.
Murphy’s classes go beyond that; they practice coding a few months a year.
“These games they are playing are more than games,” Murphy said. “They’re teaching them the thought processes, how to code.”
Code.org offers hundreds of one-hour activities in more than 48 languages for students in kindergarten and up. Students can play existing games or learn how to make their own games, apps or computer drawings.
Activities feature Minecraft, Star Wars, Disney’s Frozen, Angry Birds, and Plants vs. Zombies. Using blocks with words, students can instruct characters to complete certain actions, such as moving forward 100 pixels or turning 90 degrees to the right.
Ten-year-old Laney Bulcock likes playing the Minecraft, Frozen and Moana games on Code.org, but it’s not her favorite coding activity. “Lots of people play games, but I much more enjoy creating my own,” Laney said.
During Hour of Code on Dec. 8, Laney chose a cat and a witch for the characters in her game, and a night sky for the background. She was still working on writing the code that would tell the characters what to do.
R.J. Brewer, 11, looks forward to coding in computer lab. He would love to be a coder when he grows up.
“It would probably be the coolest thing if I could make games so I can play them myself,” R.J. said.
Dallas Webb, 11, likes Hour of Code so much that she plays the games at home sometimes. She has even taught her cousin how to code because he hasn’t learned it at his school.
“I like coding because it’s a way that we get to play with technology without our parents yelling at us,” Dallas said. “I really like that it’s a learning experience and a fun thing you can do.”
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.