Hour of Code Harsham

A HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE — Samantha Bonty (left), a computer programmer with Liberty Mutual Insurance, volunteered during an Hour of Code at Harshman Middle School on Wednesday, Dec. 5. Above, Bonty helps LaKendrick R. with a coding question. Below, students from Thomas Gregg Neighorhood School learn how to code with volunteers from Salesforce and Angie’s List. Both Hour of Code events was hosted during Computer Science Education Week.

There were error and “well done” messages popping up on just about every computer screen inside Donna Chastang’s classroom at Harshman Middle School on Wednesday morning.

The messages were directly related to the work the seventh- and eighth-grade students were doing behind the scenes as they created experiences for their characters in the Counter Hack videogame.

Hour of Code Thomas Gregg

To the untrained eye, this assignment might be viewed as child’s play. But to the computer scientists in the room (volunteers from Liberty Mutual Insurance), it was serious business but also fun and educational.

Harshman students and more than 1,000 other IPS scholars are participating in Hour of Code sessions at their schools in honor of Computer Science Education Week (December 3-9).

To assist with Hour of Code activities, TechPoint Foundation for Youth paired volunteers from local businesses with schools throughout Indianapolis, including IPS. The volunteers, who all work in STEM fields, talked to students about computer science, the jobs available in the field and how we all use computers in our daily lives. They also provided hands-on training by teaching students how to code.

“A lot of the kids love the gaming aspect of it, of course. They want to grow up and be videogame developers, which is great,” said Samantha Bonty, a computer programmer at Liberty Mutual and one of the volunteers onsite at Harshman. 

“But I think one of the hardest things to grasp is the enormity of it. … So, to us, this is a way to help excite kids about a future career in one of the fastest growing industries, that’s also one of the highest paying jobs you can get.”

Chastang, who teaches science at Harshman, said most of the students in her class have already expressed an interest in technology — whether it’s coding or mechanical. Overall, she said the Hour of Code was a great opportunity for students.

“Some of the kids looked at it as a game and some of the kids are really learning that they have to look at the details and be very systematic and use all of the thinking skills that are important to many different areas,” said Chastang. “They’re also learning a little bit about how much coding is involved in daily life — from the thermostat to their favorite videogames. … This mass exposure, in a very fun way, gives kids an opportunity to think of things that they may not have thought about before in terms of how things work in real life. But maybe more importantly, what their future can involve and where their skills can take them.”

The coding skill level varied by student during the Hour of Code as they worked to get their character through a portal, adding more obstacles at each level, while defeating computer viruses.

LaKendrick R., 14, said this wasn’t his first time creating code. He also dabbled in it while living in Minnesota, and enjoys the experience. “It’s something that’s interesting and something that I would consider doing,” he said. “I like the adventure and the process that your mind has to go through when you’re coding.”

For Zachary W., 13, a first-time coder, it was a little nerve-racking. During the coding session, he was having difficulty creating a loop, but didn’t let that overshadow the overall experience. “I think it’s fun and it’s a great experience.”

Courtney Lambert, program manager at TechPoint Foundation for Youth, said the organization’s goal with Hour of Code is mobilizing volunteers to show students that not only is computer science accessible to them, but at the very basic level everybody can write a little bit of code.

“We want to bring in the professional volunteers to show that here are people in your community who live around you who are computer scientists — so all of the volunteers that we bring in by in large are software developers, they have careers in tech here in the city,” said Lambert. “They’re coming in to help students make that human connection, to talk to them and ask them questions. It’s about showing that ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’”

TechPoint scheduled Hour of Code sessions and provided volunteers at the following IPS schools during Dec. 3-7. Volunteers are in parentheses.

  • IPS|Butler University Laboratory School 55 (DeveloperTown)
  • Harshman Middle School (Liberty Mutual and Sharpen)
  • Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School (Salesforce and Angie’s List)
  • URBAN ACT Academy at Washington Irving 14 (RocketBuild and Eli Lilly)
  • Sidener Academy for High Ability Students (PactSafe)