In 2014, the non-profit organization, code.org
, launched the Hour of Code. Hour of Code was designed to be a quick, 1 hour introduction to computer science. Since getting started, Hour of Code
has expanded to 180 countries and reached millions of students around the world.
As one might imagine, a proper introduction is designed to get someone excited and ideally motivate and inspire them to want to learn more. At Digital Adventures
, we often receive interest from the parents of students who have recently participated in the Hour of Code asking how they can learn more about technology. In essence what can they do to continue building on the interest that has been sparked.
Similar to code.org
, we think a lot about the initial experiences students have with technology. Our goal when students register for our classes or camps is to quickly demystify technology so that it is approachable and accessible for all who are interested in learning more.
Next, we want to get students to think more broadly about technology. We believe that technology has many important and diverse components. From 3D modeling to robotics and everything in between. Specifically, we believe that programming is only one part of the broader technology toolbox. To facilitate this goal, we are often intentional about illustrating everything that can be built with technology.
Finally, we believe the key foundation to learning to build with technology is learning how be a creative problem solver. There are 3 distinct elements to the problem solving toolkit that we teach to our students: plan, build and debug. These skills are applicable to all problems that students will ultimately have an opportunity to solve with technology. And so we spend a lot of time establishing this framework and implementing this knowledge through a skill of the day that we pair with each project students work on.
Once the problem solving toolkit is established, we want students to be able to practice these skills across many different projects using a wide range of platforms. Instead of limiting students early, we think there is a great deal of utility in using Java to learn how to modify Minecraft or using C# to customize Roblox or using Scratch to build video games. This enables students to generalize their knowledge versus getting specific early which can often lead to limits on their future potential.
There are so many projects and platforms that provide student’s with foundational knowledge. So in order to prevent short circuiting their learning by allowing them to narrow down based on initial interest, we provide the latitude for more broad exposure.
We also seek to utilize platforms that will enable students to continue building their knowledge at home. While we don’t assign homework or require additional study, we’ve seen that when students are curious about trying to make changes to a project that they have already built, their learning is often enhanced. This also unlocks one of the key elements in technology building - willingness to take risk and learn from your mistakes.
Due to the structure of our program, not only are students developing their own knowledge base but they also have an opportunity to engage with peers. We know that everyone has their own unique ideas about how they might model a mansion using a computer aided design (CAD) program or design a character using Construct or build a robot for Battle Bots.
To collectively leverage group knowledge, we often have students go around and check out each other’s projects to see what they would like enough to incorporate into their own projects. In addition, at the conclusion of each season, we host a showcase event that enables students to see examples of projects from those studio members who they may not normally engage with. Many times, this creates the ideal student-teacher dynamic. You can just see the confidence that comes from another student finding value in what one of their peers created and that student then being able to guide someone else in how they might incorporate those elements into their own project.
When developing skills, there is often the so-what. So if my child is interested in learning to build with technology, what is the outcome? At Digital Adventures, our goal is to develop student’s into independent builders of technology based solutions. This means that at some point they are able to take an idea of their own and bring it to life.
The timing of this ideal is variable. For some students, they may initially come in with an idea that they want to turn into reality but don’t yet have the capability to bring it to life. For other students, they may just come in hungry to learn and will let the creative process unfold over time.
At Digital Adventures, our job is to provide the space for students to develop their skills at their own pace without short circuiting learning. This is often most challenging for those who come in that already have an idea of what they want to build. They may have taken Hour of Code and now want to build the next Fortnite. While we appreciate the ambition, we often reframe the goal so that they are able to develop a roadmap for what skills they would need in order to design, develop and launch a game played by millions and built by a team of hundreds of designers, engineers and developers.
We realize that this can be frustrating and we work hard not to discourage anyone with an idea of how they want to make their mark on the world. However, we realize that these students are often most at risk for becoming disaffected during the learning process. So, we set them up with a series of projects that can lead to them ultimately developing a personal project that has elements of the game they want to build. Through that journey, our goal is to get them to learn about the game development cycle and how industry leading games are developed over a period of 5-7 years by a team of professionals who spent years developing their craft.
However, this process is no different than almost any other development cycle. Most authors who are interested in writing a book likely began with an initial curiosity. This curiosity built into a voracious appetite for reading. At some point, an emerging author begins to write short stories or pieces for rapid consumption. Over time, perhaps this becomes more longer form pieces that are distributed and appreciated by a larger audience. Eventually, she spends considerable effort and time to write a book that has great elements of storytelling and is structurally able to draw the reader in through engagement. Even if the book only takes 6-9 months to write, the foundation for the result was built over a period of several years.
In the beginning, some can feel that structure is limiting. However, we have found that by providing initial guidance and slowly removing the guardrails over time that independent technology builders develop the confidence and the skills to build anything they put their mind to will ultimately emerge. And, that’s something that we are happy that Hour of Code ultimately inspired through their great introduction to technology.
Technology consumption has given the false impression that rewards in this domain are immediate. Video games are played. Levels are completed. For those willing to invest the time, they will often find that a game can be completed in 1-2 months. From there, they move on to the next game or try to beat the game faster. However, technology creation is much different. Foundational skills must be developed. The outcome is that the student is prepared to solve any problem that might come her way. Because, we are using knowns to prepare for unknowns, the foundation must be much more robust. Ultimately, the skills of a problem solver who is knowledgeable in technical solutions will be immensely useful to whatever challenges she may encounter throughout her career.