My mother is a computers teacher at Central Middle School in my home town of Parsippany, New Jersey. Her school proudly participates in the nationwide Hour of Code campaign, sponsored by code.org. The goal of Hour of Code is to get students interested in computer science by showing them the fundamentals of programming.
Code.org suggests that learning HTML and CSS is a great next step for students ages 12 and up to add onto any basics they learned from the Hour of Code programs taught by the school. My mom thought her students would enjoy learning how to make their own websites, and she knew just the person to show her students the basics of web development – me!
At my work everybody was excited about the idea of spreading knowledge to the budding web developers of the future. Along with some excellent advice and suggestions, they sent me to Central to spend half a day teaching an Hour of Code to four computer classes.
Walking through the halls of Central was very exciting. I couldn’t help but think about myself as a student walking through those same halls 13 years ago. I didn’t have the slightest clue about computer programming or web development at that time, and I certainly wasn’t encouraged to learn it in school. Middle school for me consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic, and worrying about whether I would ever get a boyfriend.
Today’s students are faced with a different future in which those who can write and understand code have unlimited potential in the field of computer science. I must admit I was feeling a little jealous that I didn’t have access to this knowledge when I was in middle school. While I learned some web development in college, I didn’t find a passion for it until I began learning on my own while interning here at Shero. Because of my experience, I wanted to make sure I showed the students at Central how much fun web development could be, and how creative they could be with their own websites.
I began my lesson by telling the students a little about myself, with emphasis on my creative background. I know students love drawing and painting in art class, and I wanted to incorporate this sense of fun and excitement with the task we were about to do. I got some interesting and surprising questions from students, who were truly engaged and interested in what I was showing them. The most common question was “How long does this (building a website) take?”, and was met with shock and horror when I revealed that a website could take 3-4 people a full few months to finish. “Don’t worry!” I said quickly, “Our websites will only take one class period, and after that you can work on it as long as you’d like.”
I put together a single HTML file and had students open the code side-by-side with their browser so they could see how the HTML and CSS updates we were making were reflected in the browser. I created the website as a personal page for myself, and the students’ first task was to change the header from “Hi, I’m Caitlin”, to their own name. After hitting save and refreshing their browser, their name was updated! It was so exciting!
Next, the students got to update the background image, change the colors, and do anything else they could to make their website unique. The students caught on incredibly quickly. Every time I turned around, a student had figured out a new way to customize their page. Even though I never showed them how, some were even applying fancy background gradients and borders and importing their own images. One student was even able to duplicate his webpage, and create a button linking his two web pages to one another. Hands were shooting up left and right, with students asking how to pick their favorite color and generate its hexadecimal code, or link to their favorite website, or add the logo of their favorite soccer team.
By the end of class, students had their own little web page, but more importantly, they were really excited about the way their code had morphed into something they could call their own. My mom and I were incredibly impressed with the speed at which the students picked up new techniques. We had so much fun stopping at each computer and watching each student learn through experimentation.
I walked away from Central with a new sense of excitement for the job I get to do every day. I had given the students very little direction, and they were able to think outside of the box to create impressive web pages and have fun while doing so. The students reminded me that there are endless possibilities, and that in this ever-changing industry, it’s really important to be flexible and learn as you go. My experience at Central made me even more excited for the next generation of developers who had the opportunity to learn much sooner than most of us already working did. Thanks to programs like Hour of Code, the future is looking bright for the field of computer science.