By the year 2020, the United States could be short 1 million computer programmers, according Code.org, a nonprofit that wants to bring computer science instruction to every K-12 school.
To raise awareness of the dire need for more computer programmers and help celebrate Computer Science Education Week from Dec. 9-14, Code.org is organizing “a massive campaign to recruit 10 million students to try one hour of computer science.”
Called “Hour of Code,” the campaign revolves around the concept that every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science, which builds creativity problem-solving skills.
Jobs in computer programming are growing three times faster than the number of students entering the field, according to Code.org.
Exacerbating the problem, only 10 percent of schools in the country teach computer science, which is fewer than taught it a decade ago.
To encourage more teachers and schools to teach programming skills, Code.org has prepared free self-guided activities for students at all grade levels available at http://hourofcode.com. Tutorials will include lectures from Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, along with artwork from the popular Angry Birds and Plans vs. Zombies games.
Nearly 34,000 teachers and others had signed up to host The Hour of Code by Friday, according to the website. Of those, about 11,570 planned to involve their entire schools. Overall, participants expected to teach computer code to more than 4.5 million students in 167 countries during the week.
In the Bay Area, dozens of schools plan to join the fun, including Granada High in Livermore, where Computer Science and Technology teacher Carol Kinnard will teach The Hour of Code after school to anyone who wants to check it out.
Kinnard got turned onto computer programming in high school in 1979, when the course was brand new at her school.
“We had a math teacher who wanted to play around with the computers and teach it to us,” Kinnard said. “I saw it as this wonderful puzzle that I had to solve and this very cool mystery. I was engaged.”
Kinnard worked as a computer programmer in Silicon Valley for several years before deciding to bring her skills and knowledge to classrooms. This year, she said her program has grown from two programming classes to nine.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “We have an AP (Advanced Placement) computer science class where the kids are delving deep into the job of programming language and a case study where they have to learn it and modify it.”
At the other end of the spectrum, she said, is Exploring Computer Science, where students learn about the Internet and basic programming language. Kinnard also teaches a midlevel course called computer science and software engineering.
“That goes deep into a lot of the ideas that computer science either generates or works with,” she said. “We do a lot of programming in that course, but we do it in a lot of different languages instead of in-depth Java.”
The course also includes data simulation, genomics, and analyzing “big data,” which involves the collection of data that is so large and complex it can be difficult to process. For example, Kinnard said the class might talk about how to analyze the all the birthrates for the entire planet and how meaningful that would be.
As the gap between computer programming jobs and qualified candidates grows, Kinnard and others participating in The Hour of Code are hoping to excite more people about pursuing programming careers.
“The divide is going to be getting worse,” Kinnard said. “It’s going to really escalate in 2014-15.”
The Hour of Code campaign is backed by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the College Board, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and more than 100 other individuals and organizations. Computer Science Education Week starts Dec. 9 on the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a computing pioneer born in 1906.
“I think it’s going to make a difference,” Kinnard predicted, “especially if we can get teachers more educated on the value of computer science and get parents and kids to explore computer science.”
Do you think more schools should offer computer programming courses?