Why more companies should follow in Code.org’s footsteps

Why more companies should follow in Code.org’s footsteps

When it comes to teaching kids how to code, we as adults need to use our imaginations to help children engage theirs.

Code.org, the non-profit dedicated to encouraging women and ethnic minorities to take up coding has managed to combine popular culture and computer programming into a fun, easy-to-digest package.

This week, the organization launches its annual Hour of Code program, with the help of the characters of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Entitled Star Wars: Building a Galaxy with Code, the initiative works in partnership with schools across the world to help teach children aged six and over the basics of programming.

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“By featuring powerful heroines Leia and Rey in this fun computer programming tutorial, we hope to inspire students of all backgrounds to try learning this foundational field,” said Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org.

But this isn’t just Code.org paying the producers and animators of the film a shed load of money to use the film’s brand to entice viewers.

Kathleen Kennedy, the producer of the film and Rachel Rose, the lead engineer of animation both introduce kids (and adults) to the concept of coding and how it ties into the look and feel of the movie.

Rachel then goes through a bespoke coding environment that teaches users how to move BB-8 using blocks of Javascript – while composer John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra provide a soothing musical backdrop.

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I was taught Fortran at university, which is the forefather of most of the languages used on the Web today. But I remember little, if any of it. Plus it was dry as hell. This program however, is seriously fun.

I get to type out Javascript to help BB-8 gather up the scrap metal in the coding program, with Rachel on hand to lend support along the way. Alternatively, you can build a Pac-Man style game in which you help C-3PO avoid storm troopers.

It’s problem solving but with a lot more utility than what you’d find on Fruit Ninja. I could happily spend my commute playing this instead of my usual stable of gaming apps.

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This isn’t the first time Code.org has worked with Disney to dispel the idea that coding is boring. Last year, the organization used characters from Frozen in much the same way. Some 13 million children took that course according to Code.org.

Historically when it comes to enticing kids, brands simply exchange logos and or rebrand their merchandise to mark an occasion. In this case, Disney and Code.org have got together to create something useful, engaging and familiar.

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“For generations, Star Wars has sparked kids’ curiosity and imagination, and we hope the appeal of characters like Princess Leia and Rey will help fuel greater participation in science and math, especially among girls, around the world,” Kennedy said in a statement. The results of which, speak for themselves. More than 77,000 events have been created worldwide to participate in this year’s event. 

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A study funded by Microsoft in 2013 reported that there are 120,000 new jobs created in the United States each year that require the skills of workers with degrees in Computer Science.

However, in the US only 49,000 graduates leave university with Computer Science degrees annually creating a gap of 71,000 available jobs.

If more companies can learn how to mix and popular culture with computer science, we’ll all be the better for it. But more broadly, when it comes to collaborating with each other, brands should combine more than their marketing departments if they want results that stretch beyond our solar system to a galaxy far, far away…

Schools worldwide will teach the Hour of Code in the first week of December. 

Hour of Code to feature Star Wars: The Force Awakens [USA Today]

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