Making Hour of Code Work With or Without Computer Science Experience

Online tutorials and a little practice make it possible for all teachers—regardless of background—to lead lessons on coding.

Teachers trying their hand at computer science can use the annual Hour of Code (HOC) event to get started. Launched by and held annually during Computer Science Education Week (December 6–12 this year), the movement initially began as a fun way to introduce students to coding and computer science (CS). It’s also important to mention that HOC is in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Grace Hopper, who was born on December 9, 1906.

Some teachers may avoid CS and HOC because they don’t want to lose their class’s instructional focus and rigor. Others struggle to understand where to begin teaching CS because the content is as new to them as it is for students. For those on the fence, let’s dispel some of the popular myths and misconceptions about teaching coding and CS:

  • You need to have majored in or studied CS extensively to teach coding. This is simply not true—you do not have to be a CS expert to facilitate effective lessons. It just takes organization and some experience with the edtech you’re having students use. This can be achieved with some practice beforehand. We’ll get to that in a moment with the steps below for enlisting and facilitating a successful HOC.
  • CS is not for everyone. We often hear that typically computer geeks, men, and hackers can excel in CS. In his famous TED Talk, Hadi Partovi explains that learning CS is for anyone and is dependent on understanding the foundational principles. CS teachers call these fundamentals the core CS concepts and practices. Using curriculum, teachers can begin with an introductory CS lesson and then move into broader CS topics.
  • You need to be an expert in math. CS is all about solving computational problems—math is used to analyze and design the steps required to solve those problems. We call sets of steps algorithms, and they are an integral part of the problem-solving process in CS. But we can demystify using math in CS for students by leading a lesson with a problem they want to solve computationally. For example, students can create an app to set timers for homework or feeding a pet. The more compelling the problem and clearer the steps for problem-solving are, the more willing students will be to pick up the needed tech and math skills for coding.

Fortunately, there are many entry points into CS—and although HOC isn’t the only one, it is a popular one that teachers can facilitate effectively with little prep time. No coding experience is needed to participate, but to get the most out of HOC, check out this handy checklist.

6 Tips for a Successful HOC

1. Watch this video to familiarize yourself with how to host the HOC in your school or classroom. The video also provides valuable information on CS jobs and the added value of including coding in the curriculum.

2. Register your school, home, or organization/company with Doing so puts your school name and city on both their map and events page.

3. Settle on activities by exploring these one-hour tutorials. The tutorials accommodate multiple reading and comfort levels for both newbies and experienced K–12 CS learners, so there are several ways you can go about this:

  • Choose one tutorial to implement with your entire class—this is great when your kids are new to CS. For this option, it’s a good idea to consider your students’ interests by choosing a tutorial themed around a topic you know they’ll like (e.g., Minecraft and Dance Party are big hits with kids). I would always practice the tutorial on my own before implementing it with students. This allows me to make sure I have the necessary insight to adequately support students during the activity.
  • Let each student choose their own tutorial to work on. This option is great for students with some CS experience. They can also adjust comfort levels in the lessons they choose to work on.
  • If technology is a problem, there are plenty of unplugged lessons and tutorials to choose from.
  • Pair students up if there aren’t enough devices in your classroom.

4. Promote your HOC and celebrate your students’ work by taking to Twitter and other social media using the hashtags #CSEdWeek and  #HourofCode. With the hashtags, you can also join the CS professional learning community and view the work of countless educators from all over the world for inspiration.

5. Prepare and print completion certificates for each of your participating students. These are really a nice touch to culminate your HOC. I’ve witnessed young people (as well as adults) be very proud of displaying their certificates for others to see.

6. To keep students coding or trying out other CS learning, I recommend sticking to one project a semester for no more than two to three weeks at a time if you’re not a CS teacher. Here are some additional resources with actionable steps and plenty of lessons/projects to choose from: