How an Hour of Code Boosted a School's Computer Science Program

As part of Code.org's Hour of Code, one school from every state has the opportunity to win $10,000 worth of technology. We spoke with Susan James, a teacher right here in Digital-Tutors' backyard, who won the grant for her school last year. James is a computer science teacher at Santa Fe High School in Edmond, Oklahoma. She's taught Computer Science at Santa Fe for the last four years. She teaches Game Programming, Computer Science, and AP Computer Science. In her classes the students mostly learn Java, since that’s the language that’s covered on the AP test. She heard about the inaugural Hour of Code from the Computer Science Teacher’s Association newsletter. At first she planned to just do the Hour of Code with her classes, but then she realized that if she opened up the learning event to all of her school then they'd be eligible to win some prizes. What drew her to the prizes was actually not the $10,000, but the opportunity to win a tech video chat with a guest speaker, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. So she talked with her school's principle and he agreed to support the Hour of Code as long as it didn't interfere with the students' other classes. To spread the word about Hour of Code, James had a huge banner made as well as morning announcements that are made throughout the entire school in the mornings. She hung posters up in her classroom that featured familiar faces. Susan James working at her computer "Code.org did a really good job of providing packages for us," James said about the materials she used to let students know about the event. She made it possible for students to come whenever it worked for them, whether that was before school, after school, or during lunch. “Students gave up their personal time do their Hour of Code,” James said. With the $10,000 James was able to personally make all the decisions about where the money for the technology would go after consulting with her department. She purchased a SMART board with a tablet that works with it. She also was able to get dual monitors and graphics cards for all but six of the 28 work stations in her classroom. "The tech was a real benefit to the program," James said. Since the Hour of Code in 2013 and the addition of new technology, student interest in Computer Science at Santa Fe has expanded quite quickly. The AP Computer Science class in particular has doubled in size. A third of those students were participants in Hour of Code last year. In Edmond Public Schools, Computer Science classes are available for students to take in one of two ways. They can either take the classes as an elective, or they can take Computer Science to satisfy their Foreign Language credit. In the future, James is hoping to get specific math accreditation completed so that her courses could also satisfy a Math requirement at Santa Fe. As it stands currently, students must have at least taken Geometry to be able to take Computer Science. "Students like to make games, obviously, but they are also beginning to really realize that they have to have some sort of understanding of Computer Science," James said.