By Jim Tortolano
Computers are everywhere. They’re in your phone, your car, you watch, maybe even in your oven. We are hip-deep in the technology that runs our lives. But figuring out what makes those devices tick … Scary! Complicated! Math-centric!
Uh, no ….
That’s a big part of the lesson of “The Hour of Code” initiative running worldwide during Computer Science Education Week and on some campuses of the Garden Grove Unified School District. From Dec. 5-11, millions of students across the planet and thousands of students in the GGUSD are getting an early introduction to assembling the very basic building blocks of the applied science which, in the 21st century, makes the world go around.
“I think one of the big things is that students aren’t exposed to coding at all,” said Eric Henninger, 39, who doubles as a computer science instructor at Garden Grove High School and aquatics coach. “They use technology but don’t have any kind of idea of how to make technology. So exposing them to this allows them to find out if they have an interest in it.”
In the library at GGHS on Thursday, dozens of students bent over laptops and desktop computers to try their hand at doing some simple coding for “apps,” the bit-sized computer programs on mobile devices, which run the gamut from games like “Angry Birds” to driving apps, like Waze. The introduction to coding, educators hope, will spark an interest in the greater world of shaping technology.
“I hope they don’t just use these things,” said Henninger, referring to devices like smartphones. “I hope they use them and want to do things differently, that this would be better if it worked like this. And if they had the ability to do that, they are changing things for everybody.”
Ah, but you have to have the math gene to be any good at it, right? “I don’t think so,” said Henninger. “I’m not bad at math but I wasn’t into calculus or anything. It’s always been connected to math, but I’m not sure why. There is some similar thinking; you are working through a problem. But I don’t think [the connection] goes very deep.”
Modern programming makes coding less stressful than it once was. “You get something wrong and it tells you,” he said. “Most of the things we work with do that. It gives you a nice red line, saying ‘this is a problem.’”
Echoing Henninger’s comments are GGHS students Ben Viveros, 16, and Kate Duong 17.
“It’s fun learning things online,” said Viveros, a junior. “With Mr. Henninger, he teaches very well. He explains it very thoroughly but so everyone can understand.” Viveros, who thinks he might pursue a career in aeronautical engineering, believes that the “Hour” is a useful thing for high school students. “They need to experience one form of code. It’s very simple.”
Duong, a senior, is no newcomer to coding. “I really like it,” she said, “I like how it brings out my creativity. I can make images, I can show movement in ways that I like.” She might like to work professionally in either video game design or animation.
“I don’t feel like women are appreciated for playing video games,” she said. “When men hear about women playing video games they’re like, ‘Oh, let me help you do this,’ Or, ‘that’s so cute.’ Women can be as good as men in video games.”
And maybe the next great video game creator will be a girl who got her start in the craft sitting in a high school library during “The Hour of Code.”