Getting kids engaged in coding is great, but what happens when the hour is up?

GUEST COLUMN | by Sarah O’Rourke

If you are in the education field, you’ve likely heard about #HourOfCode which took place last week.

The Hour of Code is a global movement by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org that reaches tens of millions of students in 180+ countries through a one-hour introduction to computer science and computer programming. The benefits of learning to code are valuable, as it helps these coders potentially become the creators of the next Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.

All the attention and excitement about getting kids engaged in coding is great, but what happens when the hour is up?

Jobs Available vs. Skills Possessed

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science-related jobs available and only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs. Computer science is the fastest growing profession within the Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) field, but only 8% of STEM graduates earn a computer science degree.

As we’re working with the next generation and encouraging them to explore STEM, it does a disservice to only expose them to coding. There’s more to STEM careers than computer science degrees, and we owe it to the students to evolve their interest from Hour of Code to something more, something tangible and something made is important.

Beyond Computer Science

With computer aided design (CAD), students can imagine, design and create things virtually and then make them. There are a dozen of companies––from Autodesk to Microsoft––giving teachers and students free access their easy-to-use software that can be used alongside affordable 3D printers to prepare students for their future careers.

Before you bring CAD into your classroom, spend time exploring it yourself. You don’t need to be an expert to bring this technology into your room, but having a general understanding helps. From there you can decide which tools and programs you’d like to implement into your curriculum.

Tools to Help

One of the easiest 3D design tools, Tinkercad, allows anyone to think of something in their mind, or sketch on paper and create it in a matter of minutes. Codeblocks, Tinkercad’s beta feature which was announced earlier this year, combines the power of code and CAD. By using intuitive, non-technical language and functionality, Codeblocks makes it easy to learn and create. Once the design is complete, students can easily make a 3D print of it through their Tinkercad dashboard. Codeblocks is great for a wide range of codes (from beginners to experienced), as well as teachers.

Then, rethink your curriculum through the lens of 3D design. Since you won’t be limited to teaching in 2D anymore, why would you curriculum stay that way? That said, it is not necessary to start from scratch. If you typically teach students how to code a shark, you can rework the project so your students can not only design the shark, but then also make a 3D version of it for their desk. For other ideas of projects to bring to your classroom, check out the Instructables website. There are limitless, great projects for students of all ages and teachers can sign up for free premium memberships.

Changing the World

When kids grow up understanding how things are made and designed, their ability to literally change the physical world that they live in is pretty amazing! So, continue to take part in the Hour Of Code but, when those 60 minutes are up, encourage your students to combine code and CAD to help them change the world around them.

Sarah O’Rourke leads Brand Strategy for Autodesk’s Education efforts. In her role, she focuses on understanding the next generation for Autodesk, what motivates educators and how to inspire anyone to make anything. Contact her through LinkedIn