Hour of Code Sets up Lifetime of Skills

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As her kids Gavin and Norah figure out a way to navigate BB-8 through a desert map, Talia Anderson offers the occasional helping hand as they drag and drop blocks of code to tell the Star Wars droid where to go.

“We have to get BB-8 to the scrap piles,” Gavin says. “It’s fun.”

Immediately, Norah chimes in: “We can’t hit the bandits.”

It’s not the kids’ first introduction to coding, she says, but the Hour of Code program at Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology is a good way to get them interested in a hobby that could become something much more.

“There’s a lot more than just moving him around. We look for stuff like this that we can come out and try before we invest in stuff at home,” Talia Anderson says.

The children’s museum in downtown Youngstown hosted its first Hour of Code event, organized by FactSet Research Systems, in August and has brought it back several times in the months since, including daily program during National Computer Science Education Week the first week of December.

The first class used a program hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Scratch, which allows students to animate figures and create music. Since October, the Hour of Code classes have been Star Wars-themed through a program from Code.org.

“The movie was coming out and it seemed like the age group that was coming in was between 5 and 6, so it suited them better than [Scratch],” says Shanna Chasebi, associate content quality manager for FactSet and leader of the office’s social responsibility committee. 

For teens, a Javascript program is also available, which requires more input than the simple drag-and-drop mechanics of the version for younger kids. 

The Youngstown office of FactSet, a financial tech company based in Norwalk, Conn., focuses primarily on backend research of companies and their supply chains, Chasebi says. To do that, employees need to understand structured query language, or SQL, a programming language used in searching databases. 

“A lot of what we do in our office is going into quality assurance and control, where SQL controls are needed. In order to do that, coding is much needed, especially at the higher levels,” she says. “It’s a big part of what we do, so it’s nice to teach it at a level where they can understand it and have fun with it.”

Joshua Meckley, 12, has gotten more and more interested in coding recently, his parents James and Kim say.

While navigating BB-8 around a digital version of Jakku may seem far cry from what the tech company does, educating kids on the basics of working with computers is the first step, she says.

“There are things I learned at that age, when I was that young, that I still have with me to this day. It’s important during those early years to implement these programs and lesson because they stay with you,” Chasebi says. “They’re still in development and they’re absorbing everything. At that age, the mind is like a sponge and everything soaks in.”

As one of the chief organizers of field trips to the museum, Oh Wow senior edutainer Kelli Young couldn’t agree more. There’s no age too early to start teaching kids about coding.

“If they can work an iPad, get them started. I see kids walking through the store maneuvering through YouTube. If you can work a cellphone at 3 or 4, we’ll teach you how to code,” she says with a laugh.

Beyond just coding skills, students in the Hour of Code classes also pick up skills that will be valuable with whatever they do in life.

“Not only is there a social piece where you can talk to an adult about what’s going on, but it’s also working on hands-on skills. It helps with hand-eye coordination,” Young says. “As they grow up and go to school, these are the things they’re going to be doing, so this starts them early.”

As their son Joshua figures out a way to navigate R2-D2 to Luke Skywalker a few feet away, James and Kim Meckley are excited by his interest in coding. Both are educators with the Trumbull County Educational Service Center.

“Anything that’s learning based, we are 100% supportive of,” James Meckley says.

And while the steps are basic in the Function Junction space of Oh Wow, there’s no reason to think that it’ll stop when the family leaves the museum, Kim Meckley adds.

“He is very much into the coding and all the programming stuff. He loves it,” she says. He likes making things move and learning how to build stuff. As he’s gotten older, he’s just gotten more into it.” 

Pictured: FactSet content quality manager Shanna Chasebi, right, helps Norah and Gavin Anderson with the Code.org coding program while mom Talia watches.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.