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Code.org has released a Star Wars themed tutorial as part of its Hour of Code campaign to teach young people about technology and coding.
The initiative will run as part of of Computer Science Education Week in December 2015, encouraging children to make games featuring characters from the upcoming Star Wars film and learn about programming at the same time.
Hour of Code was originally created by Code.org, a US-based, not-for-profit organisation which aims to introduce coding in the curriculum.
Since coding was introduced into the UK national curriculum in September 2014, Avid Larizadeh Duggan, the initiative’s UK lead, saw Hour of Code as an opportunity to work alongside schools to dispel some of the misconceptions around working in the IT industry.
“One of the main pieces of feedback I was getting from teachers and organisations in the educational world was that the curriculum change was great, but teachers were very apprehensive about what it meant. They don’t feel trained enough and there’s still a massive stigma around coding,” she said.
“Anything that can be done to help them change that would be fantastic.”
The tutorial encourages children to write code to create games which can then be shared and played, promoting an interactive and collaborative experience.
Characters will include the droids R2-D2, C-3PO and BB-8 – as well as the universe’s heroines Rey and Princess Leia.
In 2014, Hour of Code featured characters from Disney’s Frozen, and the tutorial was completed more than 13 million times. All of the Code.org tutorials combined have been played by more than 100 million students across 180 countries.
“Last year we used the characters from Frozen – Ana and Elsa – and it was extremely popular, especially with regards to girls. It really brought to life how excited girls can be, and how coding is applicable to girls and to boys,” said Larizadeh Duggan.
“This year it’s also based around the female heroines, the idea again is to say that – whether you’re a girl or a boy – you can see you have a shot at it. Despite the idea today that computer science is a male-dominated field, having these strong heroines is a great message and the type of diversity that we want to spread.”
Larizadeh Duggan explained that boys would then also be exposed to strong female characters at the same time as learning about coding, which would help break down the perception that it’s a male-only activity.
Students are encouraged to learn and build together, which Duggan said breaks down another misconception that computer scientists only work alone.
“There’s also this perception that computer science is a solo project, that you sit in a room on your own,” she said.
“It’s oftentimes teamwork.”
Breaking down preconceptions
The initiative’s website features videos from role models such as Lily Cole, Ashdon Kutcher and Mark Zuckerberg to interest more girls and children from minority groups in technology.
“The logic of computational thinking in today’s digital world is so very important regardless of the industry.” Duggan said.
“It’s hard for a teacher alone to be able to create that connection with all of the industry, we have to put role models in front of children and parents to show them why computational thinking is an important type of thinking to master in today’s world.
“The goal for us isn’t to turn everyone into coders, it’s to inspire enough, to make it accessible to everyone to be exposed to what computational thinking is and to break down the barriers that make people believe that it’s extremely complicated and difficult.”