A global movement whose mission is to demystify the seemingly secret codes of computer science is coming to Lathrop High School on December 11. The hour-long tutorials are not just for the Spartan students. The two introductory sessions are open to the public as well.
The first one will begin at 4 o’clock during the regular computer class under Lathrop High’s Game Design instructor, Scott Meyers. The session in the evening will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. Both will be held in Room G-5.
“We’re trying to get as many people as we can to attend the two Hour of Code events, and to make them aware of the usefulness of computer coding," said Lathrop High Principal Mike Horwood.
The hour-long introductory computer science sessions called Hour of Code is reaching literally tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries around the world, thanks to a 501c3 non-profit group called Code.org which is behind this global computer-education push. Behind this effort are giant computer companies including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
The event being hosted by Lathrop High on Dec. 11 is just one of many being offered globally during the week of Dec. 8-14 when Computer Science Week is observed. Tutorials are available in more than 30 different languages. A representative from Assembly Member Kristin Olsen of District 12 is among the guests expected to attend.
What to expect from the hour-long sessions
“What we’re going to do is to show them how to make a 3-D virtual environment. It’s meant to be just an introduction to the process, not meant to be super deep – just to pique their interest,” Meyers said explaining what participants can expect from the free Hour of Code sessions.
It’s a class that shows students how coding is used to create computer games.
“What we’re hoping to do is to pull the curtain back and let the students see and kind of experience coding and see what it’s like, because it’s a big mystery to a lot of people,” Meyers said.
He is also utilizing the Hour of Code event to “bring in students who have never done (coding) before.”
He teaches computer game design to juniors and seniors, but he hopes to reach out to students in other grades all the way down to fourth grade through Hour of Code. Additionally, he is hoping to draw as many female students as possible to l earn about game coding. Girls are typically not interested in this subject. “It’s still sort of a male-dominated thing right now. Statistically, girls play a lot of games but guys make most of the games, so we’re trying to get more females interested in the gaming design,” Meyers said.
The gender disparity in this field is very evident everywhere, not just in his classroom but in the general population, he noted.
In his class at Lathrop High, for example, where he teaches three computer classes a day, and using the round number 100, only 18 percent out of that make up the female population.
“And that’s very consistent with the real world as well. It’s still one of the things where we haven’t been able to break to bring the girls into it and get them interested. And there’s a big push for that. There’s a huge push every year to try to interest more females,” Meyers said.
Girls come to the games in a different way than the boys, he said. Girls who do it are good at it and they enjoy it, and they come out of it in a more detailed approach.
“They are more detail-oriented. My best work has been with female students because they are extremely detailed and really focus on things like aesthetics, whereas a buy may be focused on the overall math – I want a castle here and a castle there – but my female students’ work look a lot nicer because they are more focused on the details so add a whole perspective into the process,” explained Meyers.
Practical applications of game coding
Introductory to game coding is not just inane, simple play. But by starting with a simple 3-D computer construction, that simply shows the students that coding is not something scary. “You can type in these symbols and something happens,” Meyers said. It’s similar to what happens to woodshop students where they are introduced to woodworking and start out by building a simple napkin holder.
So, “we’re going to program a game, make a game. And the game is just a carrot, the hook to get them in,” he said, explaining further the purpose and practical applications for the lessons learned from the Hour of Code classes.
“The codes you use to make a game is similar to the code you use to, like, balance a checkbook,” Meyers said.
If you tell people you are going to use the codes to make a spreadsheet to balance your taxes, “nobody would show up” to the sessions, he said.
Parents who will show up at the Hour of Code sessions will be able to see and hopefully understand that “game design is a very legitimate career choice,” he added.
“There’s a lot of job openings in programming. It’s a legitimate career, especially in California. Even if it’s just games, it’s a very hard job. This is a great chance for (parents) to come and see game design and programming in general, something for them to share with their kids. I’d love to see them bring their kids and sit side by side with them and just spark that interest in their kid. It’s such a weird combination of art and math and English because there’s math and writing involved.”
There are actually some students who are creating games and uploading up on the Google market, earning some money out of that, Meyers said.
“Some of my students make some pretty games that are not very complicated,” and vice versa, he said. But it’s sales that dictate the market; there’s always that possibility that one of those games will catch on and literally catapult the game maker to financial success.
But while Hour of Code targets computer games, coding goes a lot further when applied to learning and teaching students. One of the things that Meyers is working on right now is designing 3-D simulation games that allow students to build historical locations. This can be applied to a standard fourth-grade project of building a California mission.
“Instead of making a mission out of cardboard and moss, we can actually build it in the computer and students will be able to walk through inside and around it,” Meyers said. And as the students take a virtual-reality tour inside and outside the mission, they can listen to the narrative by way of a headset that they can wear, as they do in some museums today, he said.
And there’s the tie in to Manteca Unified’s $30 million Going Digital project.
“Since we’re going digital, we can do projects like this instead of making a cardboard mission. It’s sort of a virtual-reality tour, a nice way to integrate technology; it’s so much more than a PowerPoint,” he added.
“Integrating technology in education is really difficult. It’s more than just telling students to go online and search on the Internet. Research – that’s all good – but really integrating it complements the lesson. How can I take something they’re doing in science and make a game out of that? Build the Alamo, for example? Those will be the areas we can do once we get Going Digital up and running.”
To learn more about Hour of Code, log on to http://www.hourofcode.com. For any questions about the session offered at Lathrop High School, call 209.938.6350 or visit the Manteca Unified School District web site at www.mantecausd.net and click on schools where you can find the link to Lathrop High School. The school is located at 647 Spartan Way which is the extension of Lathrop Road west of Interstate 5.