As part of the Computer Science Education Week, Code.org, carried out a number of coding initiatives called an Hour of Code. Showing support for Code.org’s initiative, Microsoft organized and carried out their own hour of code on the 7th of December 2017 at the House of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (also known as Temple Trees).  In attendance were Hon. Min. Sagara Rathnayake, the Minister of Law and Order and the Chief of the Staff to the Prime Minister and representatives from the Ministry of Education.

What is the Computer Science Education Week?

In case you were wondering, the Computer Science Education Week is a global phenomenon that takes place on a yearly basis. For 2017, the CSEW will take place from the 4th of December to the 10th of December 2017. Organized by a consortium from the Computing in the Core coalition which includes organizations such as Code.org, Microsoft, Google and the IEEE computer society, the purpose of this week is to inspire children to take an interest in computer science.

Microsoft Hour of Code
Students learning to code
Image Credits: Edutopia

The goal here is to teach coding to 100 Million students. Throughout the week, Code.org would partner up with companies across the globe to carry out various programmes to teach children how to code. Of these 100,000, 200 students were gathered here to see what they can do with code.

Kicking things off was Min. Sagara Rathnayake

He thanked Microsoft for their efforts in taking to organize this Hour of Code for the second consecutive year. Technology is the key, the minister said. By just learning code, you can unlock your imagination and also gain a wealth of knowledge

Microsoft Hour of Code
Min. Sagara Rathnayake addressing the gathering

This in turn can lead to better employment opportunities not only for those in Colombo, but for anyone anywhere in the country. With technology, we no longer have to be rooted to one place. Mobility is improving on a daily basis, opening up new doorways for employment. Innovation, be it in terms of software or hardware will never stop, neither should it ever stop.

We then saw two students on stage

Tharaka Dilanga, a student of the Kelanyia University was on stage to talk about his life story. Starting from his experience at Nisala Nena Sala, he spoke about how his passion in IT was ignited.

Microsoft Hour of Code
Tharaka Dilanga sharing his life story

He was joined by A. E Kavindu Avishka who also shared his life story as well. The duo then went on to talk about what coding is and the principles and methodologies behind it. By means of going through numerous tutorials and self-studying techniques, they were able to expand their knowledge.

Microsoft Hour of Code
Kavindu Avishka also sharing his life story

They also spoke about the YouthSpark programme that was carried out last year. This was a coding marathon that played host to a number of leading schools and universities. Tharaka and Kavindu took part and emerged as the winners of the programme. They emphasized that your background doesn’t matter, as long as you have a target to reach, along with the dedication to achieve it.

Next was the Secretary to the Ministry of Education

Sunil Hettiarachchi, Secretary to the Ministry of Education was up next to address the gathering. He too thanked all the sponsors and organizers for hosting an event of this nature. Sunil emphasized that coding and programming would play a key role in the near future and that they would also redefine the teaching-learning methodology. He also added that schools would be given laptops and Microbit devices, all with the goal of fostering programming from a grassroots level.

Microsoft Hour of Code
Mr. Sunil Hettiarachchi, Secretary to the Ministry of Education addressing the gathering

Learning Minecraft with an Hour of Code by Microsoft

Usually, Minecraft is used to build anything from a simple house to a sprawling expanse of land that can have anything from your own castle to a fully working replica of the Starship Enterprise. But did you know that you can use Minecraft to code? Well, neither did we.

So, what is code?

What do you think of when you hear the word “code”? These were two simple questions that were asked by the two hosts for the event. Coding or programming is essentially a set of instructions that you give a machine with the intent of carrying out a defined process. Systems can only understand binary language (1,0). So in order to make use of an application to solve a given problem, you need to code it.

Let the coding begin

It was then time to start coding. Called Hero’s Journey, the tutorial employed elements from Minecraft to teach concepts such as loops, debugginh and functions, by means of a visual block-based editor. The students were introduced to a group of people who encountered a small problem in the world of Minecraft. The goal would to be to help these people out.

Students would be required to choose a character (Steve or Alex). Once selected, they would have to perform simple actions by means of code to help the character progress through 12 steps.

Microsoft Hour of Code
Students working on the 12 stages of the Minecraft challenge

At the end of the 12 steps, students could submit their name and an online certificate would be issued in their name. We too took the 12 step lesson and completed it successfully as well.

Microsoft Hour of Code
We too took part in the Hour of Code as well

Following the completion of the hour of code, students also go the chance for a small tour of the House of the Prime Minister. This was followed by lunch, after which the Hour of Code by Microsoft came to an end.

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