What do Star Wars, the Grinch and Minecraft have in common?

For kids, they can all open the door to a future with computer science.

As a part of National Computer Science Education Week in December, elementary and middle school students around the country participated in a program called Hour of Code. Students go through an hour of guided instruction on the basics of coding, accomplished using fun tutorials that might employ plenty of pop culture references or famous people and characters. By the end of the hour, students are collaborating on these small projects and celebrating what they’ve achieved: their first steps into technology.

Locally, TechPoint Foundation for Youth spearheaded the Hour of Code effort in nine Indianapolis K-8 schools. From December 3-7, they engaged 239 community volunteers to help 2,313 kids finish their tutorials. For many students, this brand new experience can crack open some of the mystery behind “computer science” to make it more relatable and interesting.

“Hour of Code is a great opportunity for kids to try out coding and computer science for the first time–or the second or third depending on their prior experience!” said Courtney Lambert, program manager with TechPoint Foundation for Youth, who coordinated the Foundation’s Hour of Code event. “It places the students in a fun, low-stakes environment where they can gain some very basic competency solving logic puzzles while also having fun and working together.”

Students at Indy schools enjoy their lessons during Hour of Code. (Photo Credit: TechPoint Foundation for Youth)

While anyone is welcome to serve as a volunteer for Hour of Code, the subject matter naturally draws in people with a tech background. From individuals eager to help to entire company departments volunteering for an afternoon, the tech community and Hour of Code go hand-in-hand. “For many students, when the volunteers arrive in their classroom, this is their first time interacting with someone who works in tech and it’s such a powerful moment,” said Courtney. “We’ve seen many compelling studies that outline the connection between knowing a tech professional and ultimately choosing a career in tech.”

Of course, Hour of Code is one part of a much larger initiative to introduce children to a future that includes computer science. Other organizations like Nextech assist teachers in better understanding how computer science and technology will affect their kids’ lives, and enroll high school students in immersive learning experiences within tech companies. They also support Computer Science Education Week through policy advocacy and other efforts.

A major goal of this initiative is to make known the importance of tech in education and encourage state legislatures to take that into account for public schools. With Nextech reporting that by 2025, potentially 23,000 jobs in Central Indiana will go unfilled due to lack of technical talent, opportunities like Hour of Code can serve as gateways toward a rigorous educational curriculum for schools. Notably, Indiana’s state government earlier this year voted to incorporate computer science education into K-12 schools’ future curricula, a big step forward in embracing technology’s future in education and part of a plan to generate the next wave of tech talent Indiana needs.

Though Hour of Code offers an important first step into the world of tech, students need constant engagement to keep at it and practice their skills. Indiana schools have until 2021 to finalize their plans for computer science education; in the meantime, volunteers from the tech community can fill the gaps for many students who’ve discovered this new passion for the subject.

“After the Hour of Code, we encourage our volunteers to explore additional engagement opportunities in order to continue inspiring Indiana kids to explore tech careers,” said Courtney.

You can discover more of these volunteer opportunities through TechPoint Foundation for Youth. Learn more about computer science education initiatives from the Indiana Department of Education.