This year at Hillbrook, every  student participated in the Hour of Code. Started by code.org to “demystify computer coding and show that anyone can learn the basics“, the goal is to get every student in the world to spend one hour coding during the second week of December.

We had several events to celebrate Hour of Code (aka Computer Science Education Week). In this post, I’ll walk you through what we did at Hillbrook,  how you can recreate it, and why it matters.

Hour of Code: Quick Backstory

Two years ago during Hour of Code, a few teachers spent one hour coding with their students. It was great. Our school hadn’t participated in Hour of Code officially before, and we did. #eduwin

Since then, several teachers at our school have integrated coding and/or robots into lessons. First graders worked with BeeBoots and blockly programming on iPads. Middle school students began to learn Javascipt in math class, and program Mindstorms to create robots in science class. Coding in classrooms was bubbling up. It was time to double down.

Last year, every student was going to spend at least one hour coding. Instead of simply visiting hourofcode.com, we decided to have a week-long celebration of coding. It was epic, and led to more coding embedded into traditional lesson. This year, we renamed it Everyone Can Code and continued the idea of having many stations/sessions for students to participate in.

Let me walk you through what we did with our students, from junior kindergarten through eighth grade.

Warning: this was a lot of work. Even if you take these ideas and run with them (and please, take these ideas and run with them!), there’s a lot of prep, and there’s a lot of purchases. Feel free to pick and choose ideas, lessons, and sessions from the veritable smörgåsbord of coding activities. I recommend doing something for Computer Science Education Week/Hour of Code, but December is a crazy time of year to pull of an event or two at this scale.

Here’s the rundown:

Everyone Can Code Events

Middle School (Grades 5-8) Everyone Can Code

We created 12 stations/sessions. Over 95 minutes, middle school students will go to two stations.

Through this Google Form, students selected their top 3 choices. I manually created heterogenous groups, used Autocrat to email students their tickets, and used a Mac application Pages Data Merge to mail merge this fancy Pages document with a csv file of students and their assigned sessions.

Every single middle school student spent 95 coding at two of these sessions:

  1. Sphero Art
  2. Hour of Code website
  3. Paper coding
  4. Sphero maze (cardboard maze)
  5. MakeyMakey + Scratch + ? Options? (sound trigger)
  6. Hillbrook Air Corps
  7. Robot Actors (RSG: paper storyboard, record, voiceover, publish)
  8. Piper
  9. Paper Circuitry
  10. Ozobot
  11. Coding version of BreakoutEDU??
  12. SAM Labs
  13. LittleBits
  14. Code Combat

Here are the descriptions for each session:

Code Combat: Choose your hero and code your way through the ogre patrols, lava pits, and laser beams of Kithgard Dungeon. Level up, earn gems, and loot magic items to unlock new programming powers!

Sphero Maze: Create an intricate maze and program your Sphero to successfully navigate the most epic maze ever designed for a robot.

Programming music with MakeyMakey: Use the MakeyMakey to connect conductive material to control your computer. Create a game or instrument, and play or  perform it with your MakeyMakey materials.

Make a Movie with Robot Actors, Dash and Dot: Write a movie script where the actors are robots. Using the app Tickle, program the actions of the robot(s). Use an iPod Touch to record your movie and add voiceover in real time to add the dialog.

Hillbrook Air Corps: Ready to try flying some drones? Do you have what it takes to earn your wings? Code drones to fly mini missions. By the end, you’ll be saying… “I feel the need…the need for speed.”

Sphero Art: Painting and programming using a robot? Yes, we are living in the future. With an introduction to action art by famous artists such as Jackson Pollock, work together to learn how to program Sphero using the Tickle app to create a collaborative art piece!

Paper coding: Learn the basics through games that use cards, string, and lots of running around.

Paper Circuitry: Make paper come to life! Build circuits onto a piece of paper using tape, batteries and paper.

Ozobot: Create a colorful maze to program these tiny tinker robots. Can you crack the code of colors? Your choice of color changes the path of the Ozobot. Crazy!

Build a Computer with Piper: it’s physical computing on a Raspberry Pi!

Escape Room! Use the basics of coding to break into a box with multiple locks in a game called BreakoutEDU.

LittleBits and SAM Labs: Create your own prototype robot with magnetic circuits and Bluetooth modules

We recruited faculty and staff to run sessions, and created lesson plans called Ready, Set, Go with details on running each session.

Lower School (Grades 1-4) Hour of Code

Most of the planning for younger students is identical to middle school. There are enough differences, though, that it’s worth listing each step, particularly if you want to copy and paste this to share with an elementary teacher.

We created 11 stations/sessions. Over 70 minutes, lower school students will go to two stations.


Through this Google Form, students selected their top 3 choices. (Note: this form is rad. Each choice is a separate section. The “what do you want for session 1” questions is a multiple choice question; we added an image to each multiple question choice (a rad new feature in Forms!)). I manually created heterogenous groups, and used a Mac application Pages Data Merge to mail merge this fancy Pages document with a csv file of students and their assigned sessions.

Every single lower school student spent 70 coding at two of these sessions:

  1. Sphero Art
  2. Minecraft Designer
  3. Paper coding
  4. LittleBits
  5. Animate Your Name with Scratch
  6. Hillbrook Air Corps drones
  7. Make a Movie with Robot Actors, Dash and Dot
  8. Build a Computer with Piper: physical computing on a Raspberry Pi
  9. Osmo (Coding, Monster, Pizza)
  10. Ozobot
  11. Sphero maze (cardboard maze)
  12. MakeyMakey

Instead of session descriptions (several are identical setups to the middle school version), I made a short YouTube video.

Just like with middle school, we recruited faculty and staff to run sessions, and created lesson plans called Ready, Set, Go with details on running each session.

Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten Hour of Code

Every single JK/K student spent time coding in a small group. We used BeeBots and a BeeBot map to introduce students to computational thinking.

There isn’t much to explain, but it should be duly notes that kindergarten students catch on to this quickly. Before long, most were able to write a complex path for the BeeBot to follow. It’s a good reminder that we often underestimate students’ abilities. One of my favorite things about a schoolwide initiative like this is that faculty and staff can see what students are capable of, and this can lead to significant transformations in how coding is integrated into the classroom.

8th Grade Field Trip

Our school’s vision is to “inspire students to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.” So the question is, “How can coders make a difference in the world?”

I arranged a field trip for eighth graders to Google to learn how coding makes a difference in the world. We heard from Googlers from a variety of departments: Google X, user interface design, software engineer, and marketing. A big takeaway is the huge amount of collaboration and interdependence between all these people with vastly different skill sets. It’s also an epic way to see coding in the wild, and not just on a website.

Why Code?

As we work to integrate coding into the school day more, there are two things we need to do more:

  1. Stop and question why we code in school. Michelle Cordy wrote a great blog post Three Questions About Learning to Code. A favorite quote: “According to people like Dr. Julie Mueller, coding and computational thinking is ‘hiding in plain sight’ in the curriculum… The same thinking and problem solving that is foundational to science, math, inquiry in social studies is also foundational to computational thinking.”
  2. Practice. I’ve been learning how to code Swift, the language used to write iOS apps. I’m using Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app (almost) daily. This is the classic “low floor, high ceiling” education app–easy to start, insane to master.

Continue to question, continue to reflect, continue to practice, continue to implement.

    Related Posts