The Hour of Code Impresses Again

It’s been almost a year to date from my last post about the Hour of Code. After I am done lamenting about how fast time flies, it’s important to recognize how little has changed about this event. It is still the greatest educational event humanity has put together, and this year it was bigger and better than the last. I can’t possibly say enough about the merits of the Hour of Code, and I wrote that whole article last year raving about it.

This year, I’d like to share what we did at Greenwich High School to make the event extra special. We reserved the library computer lab all day and had teachers sign up to bring their classes to the event. Our four classes of computer programming students then led these students through the Hour of Code tutorials, many citing that it was “one of the coolest things they’d ever done”. I always preach the dangers of believing the block languages used in the Hour of Code is actual coding, since it’s not, but the teacher in me joyfully giggled when many of the students answered those inevitable questions with expertise. We invited some local press coverage to the event, and major kudos to Paul Schott who wrote this fantastic article about it. Susan Morris also took some video as well:

The major question is, has anything changed since last year? The Hour of Code remains fantastic, but what’s different about computer science education in our country? I think the biggest change is that the concept of every student learning coding in high school is now creeping into conversations on a far more frequent basis. We’ve utterly created this conversation at our school, because the enrollment in the program went from 0 to 33 to 100 in two years. 300 students participated in the Hour of Code event this year. Students are talking about it with their parents, community members talk about it with me, and I talk about it with my colleagues. Two years ago nobody cared. This is a good sign.

I’ve written about some realizations about computer programming in high school frequently on this blog. Here are two examples of the way creating this program has changed my concepts of teaching, and that hasn’t stopped. Just last week a student informed me that he was hired by a company to program part of their website on a part time basis. I’ve begun signing senior project forms: for students who plan on starting businesses creating animated films and selling products online. These are students who, from no programming to just a year and a half of experience believe that they can accomplish these goals. It doesn’t take much, clearly, but many students don’t have the opportunity because they’re stuck learning skills that can’t be translated into success. I think this is the next big step for education: teaching students how to monetize their skills. Not just computer skills, but art, writing, woodworking, and everything else. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this journey so far, it’s that students absolutely have the talent to succeed in this manner, but they need guidance, an opportunity to actually develop their creative talent, and someone to help manage their time for long term goals, since they have zero experience doing that.

 

Stony Brook’s 40 under 40 and the Importance of Alumni Connection

Tuesday night marked a fantastic occasion in the first annual celebration of Stony Brook University’s 40 under 40. Held in the beautiful 5th Avenue Empire Penthouse, it was truly a wonderful event. I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the production as I was not at all expecting such a high quality affair. Everything from the musical entertainment, to the venue, to the awards ceremony was outstanding. Admittedly, I shouldn’t have been surprised, as I have been raving about the quality of my experience at Stony Brook for quite some time now, and should I be presented with the opportunity, I’d go right back for college, but this was my first interface with the alumni association to date, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Matt Meyers and Sam Stanley, president of Stony Brook University.

Matt Meyers and Sam Stanley, president of Stony Brook University.

The event gave me a chance to reflect on some issues in education that I find myself thinking about frequently. For a country that boasts some of the best universities in the world, a lot of the systems in place at the college level are strikingly absent from those in place at the high school level. These aren’t pieces that are a function of student maturity, they’re simple things like alumni connection, celebration of graduates, and others. Distinguished alumni at many schools are looked to as role models, and while every human needs role models, would you argue that those in most need of such figures are at the high schools of our country? I certainly would. Yet, there is stark contrast between the value placed on alumni by universities and by high schools. Let me illustrate.

Stony Brook University’s alumni foundation is an independent nonprofit organization that takes donations (tax deductible!) to organize events and recognitions such as the 40 under 40 event I attended. Why would this organization, and the many others like it, exist if not to promote what Universities know is important? The high school equivalent amounts to individual teachers reaching out to alumni relevant to their subject matter in hopes they might come and talk about their achievements. That, of course, is only if you get a teacher interested in that sort of thing, and if you find an alumnus willing to come share. Occasionally there will also be distinguished alumni presentations. When I was in high school, we had one for a gym teacher at the high school for 30 years, who also was a graduate. I imagine that’s about as personal as these get.

Why don’t these exist in high schools? A decreased value in networking between high school students might be the best argument, but one couldn’t possibly use the funding issue as an excuse: most alumni associations are hugely run off of donations and I’m sure local parents would donate to such a worthy cause. I actually think that, since most of the benefits of alumni associations do come from networking, we might just drastically undervalue this at the high school level. This is quite funny, considering the number of successful technology companies founded by students while they were in college, or who dropped out! They didn’t even get a chance to be a part of their University’s alumni association!

I speak a lot about this to my computer programming classes, filled with entrepreneurial-minded young students, who drill into code they don’t understand in an effort to create their own products and bring their own ideas to life. I tell them to look around. One out of every four of them will start a technology company in college, one out of six of them will work in one while they attend college, and one out of eight of them will start one during the summer between high school and college. These are just statistics of computer science graduates from high school. They have all of the reason in the world to stay in touch with each other, because many of them could have potential job offers during their freshman year of college.

We don’t speak enough about the importance of networking in high school, nor do we teach students how to do it. Just because Facebook is called a social “network” doesn’t mean students have any idea what “networking” means. Based on what many of these young adults say online, I’d say they most definitely don’t know what this means, but it’s about time we put more value on this important skill during high school. I think we’re missing the obvious here: many of these students, specifically ones in entrepreneur-creating classes, are going to be future job providers. If what we’re teaching has any value at all, we should at least be able to provide students with appropriate skills to other students looking to hire them.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to continue to thank Stony Brook University for what was an outstanding event, honor, and opportunity to meet some people doing awesome things. I couldn’t help but feel like a minnow amongst giant fish there, but if there’s one thing I thought everyone I met had in common, it’s that they were all warm and motivated people.

Congratulations Matt: Stony Brook’s 40 Under 40

A big congratulations is due to Founder and President Matt Meyers who was named to Stony Brook’s inaugural “40 under 40” class last night. Co-honorees included Mireya Mayor, host of NatGEO Wild, John Oringer, founder and CEO of Shutterstock, and Joe Nathan, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Matt would like to thank his family for attending, and the Stony Brook Alumni Association for throwing an unforgettable event that will be a great way to recognize outstanding SBU Alumni in the future.

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