Hour of Code Initiative Engages Middle School Girls in Computer Science

Code Fellows helped deliver code instruction to 200 middle school girls in Washington.

The Hour of Code initiative expects to reach more than 2.3 million students worldwide by providing basic computer programming instruction.

Common Core's standards are no more rigorous than the average state standards were.

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Celebrities, politicians and computer science industry leaders have all intensified their calls for more students to become well-versed in the language of coding and computer programming, due to a projected shortage of 1 million workers in the field by 2020.

That's why Code.org, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes computer science education, started an initiative to coincide with Computer Science Education Week. Called the Hour of Code, the initiative urges schools and teachers to expose students to an hour of basic coding instruction. The international event is expected to reach more than 2.3 million students who have registered in 145 countries.

"Learning these skills isn't just important for your future, it's important for our country's future," said President Barack Obama in a video address this week. "If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything."

[READ: Obama Helps Kick Off Computer Science Education Week]

According to Code.org, the number of computer programming jobs is growing at a rate twice the national average of computer science students. That means by the year 2020, there are expected to be 1.4 million computing jobs, but just 400,000 computer science students to fill those positions.

Computer programming requires not just coding skills, says Will Little, co-founder and chief executive officer of Code Fellows. Successful programmers also need a solid business sense and professional skills in order be able to develop products that will be useful to the companies they serve, he says.

"Just not a lot of educational institutions teach all of that effectively," Little says. "And it's hard because it's such a rapidly evolving, rapidly changing industry."

Code Fellows, a digital trade school and staffing agency, offers workshops, classes, online resources, and eight-week intensive boot camps to train individuals in the essentials of computer programming. And at the end of the boot camps, students are guaranteed a job with one of the organization's more than 25 partner companies, including Amazon, White Pages, Hulu and Expedia.

"These larger companies, they are just looking for talent," Little says. "They're looking for smart people who can think of creative ways to solve solutions with code, and they care less about specific experience in specific (coding) languages, although that certainly helps."

But Little says it's not just about training students and individuals at the college and career levels; it's also important to get students engaged from a young age, to build on foundational knowledge for the future, he says.

"As kids grow up and they're in grammar school, they're learning the fundamentals of the language. So in addition to basic math, those are good times to introduce things like ... the grammar of computer programming," Little says.

Staff members and Code Fellows alumni teamed up with Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bellevue, Wash., to deliver the Hour of Code instruction to 200 middle school aged girls on Monday and Thursday.

According to Code.org, women are underrepresented in computer science. Although women make up more than half of all bachelor's degree recipients (57 percent), just 12 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women, according to data from the National Science Foundation and the Computing Research Association.

"Girls, specifically, we need to make code cool and fun for them," Little says. "Because with only 5 percent of software developers out there being women, we're all super passionate about teaching to encourage more women to get into tech."

Christine Witcher, a math and science teacher at Forest Ridge, an all-girls college preparatory school, says the event was also a way to foster problem-solving skills.

"A lot of the girls said the hardest thing was figuring out what was going wrong, and that the most fun thing was when you figured it out," Witcher says. "There's really no other place in academics where you can fail as much as when you're programming or coding."

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  • Allie Bidwell

    Allie Bidwell is an education reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at sbidwell@usnews.com.