The Hour of Code: CashStar, Kindergartners and First Graders

By Kelsey Raymond, Front-End EngineerKelseyRaymond-hour-of-code

Across the globe, hundreds of countries, thousands of schools, and millions of students are participating in the Hour of Code. The purpose of the event is to introduce computer science to students at a young age – to pique their interest and give them an opportunity to learn a skill that is becoming increasingly important, and somewhat required, for many careers.

Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Scarborough, Maine is one such school that is incorporating the Hour of Code into their teaching – and invited parents and local professionals in the tech industry to participate. My colleague Lauren Chadwick volunteered last year when her daughter was in kindergarten and invited me to join her for this year’s event. It was an honor – and lots of fun – for me to participate and represent CashStar.

Coding is a fundamental part of my job at CashStar. In fact, knowing how to code is mandatory for someone in my position, as well as the individuals who surround my desk. You can hear the tap-tap-tap of the keyboards around, knowing that new code is being written, that new languages and functions are being perfected – every minute of every day.

We used a few brown bag lunchtime sessions to plan our story about how CashStar uses code to make a mobile gift card. Armed with projector dongle adapters for our phones and iMacs, hotspots for back up Internet access and CashStar branded trinkets, we were ready to face the five, six and seven year olds.

Upon entering the school, Lauren and I were greeted by a very friendly and welcoming Courtney Graffius – the school’s Technology Integrator. She gave us an overview of what the students had been learning of late (including the word “algorithm”!) and that they had been using tutorials as lessons. I was so impressed – I hadn’t even met the students yet but I knew how lucky they were to be learning code (and being aware of it) at such a young age. Better yet, many students were interested in it. I’m a fairly recent graduate from college – and consider myself to have grown up with many opportunities to learn code and become familiar and comfortable with technology – but these students are going to surpass even that!

Courtney guided us to the two classrooms (kindergarten and first grade) we were going to present to and we finally got to meet the students! Both classrooms were ready for us with the eager students quietly sitting cross-legged on the floor, ready to learn more about code.

To share how coding is important requires a basic understanding of what we do at CashStar – and that’s what we set out to do. We wanted these students to know that every time they receive, send, and use a gift card, a developer like us played a role in that. Someone like me wrote the code to help make that happen. So many children have received or given gift cards before, and if they haven’t, they are aware of them and what they do. They are all also familiar with smartphones (and can use them faster than their parents!). But very few were aware that you can send and receive gift cards from a smartphone, and use code to do it.

To help us explain this complex content, we created a scenario around a very popular children’s birthday party location. We asked the students to imagine… You’re on your way to your friend’s birthday party when your mom realizes…she forgot to bring the present! You can’t show up to the party empty-handed and you don’t have time to go back or stop for another gift. What do you do? When you reach the party location, your mom pulls out her phone and she has an idea. She can buy a gift card to the birthday party place right from her phone! And she can have it sent to your friend’s mom’s phone!

We guided the students through the mobile buy process on our phones and showed them what code looks like. We demonstrated how to change the color of buttons using code – and had them contribute their favorite colors as styles.

It was so rewarding – being able to share what I do and my love for technology and code to these students while having them listen intently. I’m in awe of how much they understood and wanted to understand by asking questions. It was also exciting to be able to show practical applications of code and how a career can be made out of something as familiar as gift cards!

I’m excited to see where these, and other students, take these coding lessons. They could be the next generation of developers and app-makers, the next great thinkers who use code to solve problems and program machines. Some may even find themselves at CashStar!

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