Learning their lines

Hour of Code event continues to grow each year

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LOREN BENOIT/Press From left, Ethan Schwegel, Atto Wallin and Palmer Rakes fill out Star Wars code on their computers during Hour of Code Friday evening.

COEUR d'ALENE —Becki Witherow brought her two sons, Kyan and Rio, to the Innovation Collective Den on Sherman Avenue for Friday night's Hour of Code event.

Initially Witherow thought 5-year-old Rio would be the only one participating in the international learning event focused on exposing kids to coding through the use of age-appropriate games and exercises. But she was quickly encouraged to put Kyan, who is 2 years old, on her lap so he could participate as well.

"Again," Kyan said after completing an exercise involving using directional inputs to program a smiley face to work its way through a maze. "Let's make him move! He's going to move!"

While Witherow helped guide his small finger across the mouse to place the directional inputs into corresponding squares, Kyan's face lit up with a smile at the knowledge the smiley face would once again get moving through the maze.

"It's great to get them exposed at a young age," Witherow said. "And my husband is a software engineer so it runs in the family."

Friday night was the third year Coeur d'Alene youths have had the opportunity to participate in the Hour of Code event, which was co-hosted by the University of Idaho, Gizmo-CDA and the Innovation Collective. Barb Mueller, of Gizmo-CDA, said that the Hour of Code is the largest educational event in the world, and that the local event allows the community to get together in groups and do something together that will change their lives.

"Millions of kids have written their first lines of code this week," Mueller said. "If you look at what jobs will be available in the future, 60 percent of the jobs these kids will be pursuing are jobs that don't even exist yet. But what we do know is that they will be technology driven."

With more than 50 kids expected to participate Friday night, Mueller said the event has grown each year. Last year's event, held at the Gizmo-CDA building on Fourth Street, was so popular that Mueller said they bogged down their internet, as well the internet of a neighboring business.

That's where Nick Smoot, of the Innovation Collective, came in. He hosted the event at the groups offices on Sherman Avenue, which features fiber optic internet access and ensured coding would not be slowed down by poor internet speeds.

"This is 100 percent up my alley," Smoot said. "Coding is as important as learning any language for our future. Having kids in our region learn what code is takes some of that fear of the future away."

Crista Falk, a sophomore at Lake City High School, and Madeline Clausen, a freshman who is homeschooled, volunteered as mentors during the Hour of Code event. The two high school students told The Press that they both participated in the event in the past, and that it ignited a passion for coding in them they wanted to share with their younger peers.

"It's so heartwarming to see all these young people interested in coding," Falk said. "It's teaching them these skills early on that they can use for the rest of their life."

Falk added that the website the participants use, code.org, is very accessible and teaches kids about the basic functions of coding in an entertaining way. Throughout the event, Falk was working with kids engaged in a coding exercise featuring well-known characters from the Star Wars universe.

Those familiar, and likeable characters help teach kids the complexities of the coding language in a fun way, which Clausen said is very important.

"It can get concept heavy for a lot of people," Clauson said. "But with games like this, it's amazing what you can pick up quickly about coding. I've learned so much in the last two years."

Following the Hour of Code, about 25 kids 14 years and older participated in a Hackathon event, which Mueller said involves participants thinking about a problem they would like to solve. The teens then pitch that problem to the group as a whole, which votes on what project to pursue before spending the next three hours attempting to solve it.

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