Today, with the help of the AIM Institute, nearly 1,000 students at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Council Bluffs learned the fundamentals of computer programming as part of the international Hour of Code initiative. 

Principal Mike Naughton expressed his excitement over every student getting a firsthand experience with coding during their science classes.

“Anytime you can get kids interested in technology, it’s a great accomplishment,” Naughton said.

In 8th grade science teacher Preston Vorthmann’s room, students huddled over screens and completed a series of games involving blocks of code. This easy-to-learn coding language, called Scratch, introduces the operational concepts of programming in a kid-friendly format. Rather than typing out daunting strings of variables and if-then statements, students create algorithms by assembling code blocks logically, as if fitting puzzle pieces together.

Those algorithms control the behavior of onscreen characters. As students build functional code, they progress through game levels. Students that made it all the way through received an official AIM Institute Hour of Code Certificate on fancy parchment paper, signed in cursive by Mr. Vorthmann.

This was the fourth year that the AIM Institute has partnered with Wilson JHS to host Hour of Code, a one-hour, entry-level introduction to computer science designed to demystify code and interest people in technology, no matter their level of education. Hour of Code has served over 835 million people in 180 countries, according to code.org. The majority of participants come from underrepresented communities, and nearly 50 percent of participants identify as female.

While not everyone who participates in Hour of Code will feel the urge to become a programmer, Vorthmann said some students have become particularly excited about technology after trying it out for themselves.

“There was a kid earlier in the class who went in and actually looked at the lines of code,” he said. Rather than dragging the code blocks together with a mouse, the student typed out the algorithms.

This is great news for the AIM Institute, a not-for-profit organization that grows, connects and inspires the tech talent community through education and career development. The organization’s mission is to close the tech talent gap facing businesses in the Silicon Prairie, to introduce people to technology who might not otherwise have the chance to experience, and to help people become programmers through AIM Code School, the area’s only federally accredited nonprofit code school.

“We’ve found that if you don’t get children interested in technology by middle school, they’ll probably never develop that interest,” said Jonathan Holland, Senior Director of Educational Programs for the AIM Institute.

As technology introduces new modes of communication, entertainment, and industry (and renders some obsolete) a lack of tech literacy limits a student’s ability to participate in the world. It also cuts them off from pursuing careers in tech, which tend to pay significantly higher wages than non-tech jobs. 

That is why the AIM Institute works so hard to reach youth, implementing tech education in 16 schools across the metro area. The organization has helped thousands of students develop tech skills over the years, and is continuing to expand its reach. To help support the AIM Institute’s Youth-in-Tech Expansion initiative, the organization encourages you to make a donation before the end of the year.