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"Hour of Code:' students learn computer programming
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"Hour of Code:' students learn computer programming

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While the nation still deals with the lingering effects of the recession and unemployment continues to plague America, there is one job field that is rapidly expanding: Computer programming, or “code.”

By the year 2020, Code.org predicts there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computer programming. The non-profit organization is dedicated to expanding participation in computer-science education. Unfortunately, it also predicts there will be a major shortage of people available to fill those positions – 1 million short.

How does the nation solve this problem?

“By exposing kids and getting kids interested in code at a young age,” said Rob Demeuse, director of technology for the School District of Mauston.

This week, while celebrating “Computer Science and Education Week,” staff members in the district are taking on that challenge by participating in “Hour of Code.” Students spend one hour this week learning the basics of code.

“Code is what runs all your gadgets... It’s what makes stuff work, so if you have a computer or an iPad or a smart phone and you open it up and interact with the interface... It’s the code, or software, that allows you to do that,” Demeuse said.

Even though computer programming is growing, the School District of Mauston does not offer a computer-science curriculum, due to budget constraints.

“We used to have a computer-science teacher who taught programming, but we don’t have that anymore,” Demeuse said. “We need some sort of computer-science curriculum back, at least at the high school level.”

For now, Demeuse said, “Hour of Code,” is an attempt to not only expose students to code, but to build awareness among the public on the importance of teaching computer programming to students.

“If we can at least give them some exposure in some classes, I think that will go a long way toward more people going into that career field,” Demeuse said.

In their first hour Thursday afternoon of working with code, Sandy Rohweder’s fifth-grade students at Lyndon Station Elementary School were excited.

“They love it. They all said they want to create apps when they grow up,” Rohwder said.

Her students were working on their Chromebooks with an “Angry Birds” game that teaches them rudimentary code.

“It’s awesome and it’s easy,” said Aydin Ryczek, a fifth-grader.

The conversation is not limited to the School District of Mauston. Many people around the world are working to promote computer-science education and “Hour of Code.” They include former president Bill Clinton, Chairman Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer and co-founder, said in 15 years teaching code to students will be as common in the curriculum as teaching reading and writing.

“I really hope that’s true,” Demeuse said. “I hope that people who are in positions to make those decisions really take a good, hard look at it and realize that it’s not something that’s going away. It’s here to stay and it really would be a benefit to kids.”

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