What Is Family Code Night?

A next step in computer science learning for your elementary school.

By Scott Borba and John Pearce
December 2017, Volume 41, Issue 4

“When I hosted Family Code Night at my school, the outcome was amazing. We had literally hundreds of delighted K-5 children and their parents, doing their first hour of coding, together. We’ll do it again this year: we’ll have a multipurpose room full of parent/child pairs, working together to think through and solve coding puzzles, having a great time, laughing and learning, all together as a whole-school community. In that very first hour of coding play, our kids and their parents will learn fundamental computer science ideas that are common to every programming language they will ever encounter. Family Code Night is one of the best evening events we’ve ever conducted.”

—Scott Borba, Principal of Alice N. Stroud Elementary School

What is the Family Code Night program?

Family Code Night is a fully scripted, one hour and 15-minute evening event, within the capability of nearly any elementary school. It requires no coding experience, and no special facilities. You invite the entire school to your multipurpose room or other large space, for an early evening gathering at which parent-child pairs complete self-paced coding challenges – fun, game-like puzzles from Code.org’s renowned “Hour of Code.” (By the way, if your school has already done Hour of Code, even better: your young coders will shine with pride showing their parents what they’ve learned, and older kids can even be official “Code Coaches” helping out at your event.)

Family Code Night has been conducted by hundreds of schools all over the country, and was featured on the front page of the Sunday New York Times—the Family Code Night team was also invited to the White House to present at the 2016 White House Computer Science for All Summit.


Hosting Your Own Family Code Night

It’s not hard to put on your own “Night,” but it does take a little planning.

  1. Pick a date;
  2. Download the free Family Code Night “Event Kit” from www.FamilyCodeNight.org; and
  3. Designate a Presenter and an Organizer for your program.

The Event Kit guides your “Presenter” and “Organizer” through each step in putting on the program, with planning checklists, flyers, posters, a complete Presenter’s Script, slide deck, handouts, program materials, links to the puzzles and inspiring videos used in the program—there’s even a guide for getting local media to cover your Event (papers and TV stations love the story and visuals of parents and little kids tackling computer science together!).

Your Organizer needs no technology experience—with each step fully explained in the Event Kit, they make sure the space is set up, invitations go out, posters go up, and event materials are printed and all is ready to go. A PTA volunteer or school administrator is ideal.

Your Presenter should be comfortable with computers, but does not need any coding and CS experience. To prepare, they’ll carefully review the Script and slide deck, adapt the materials to their own style, and practice completing the 20 simple puzzles in the program themselves.

Puzzle directions are included in Spanish to help Hispanic families solve each puzzle (more Spanish language resources now nearing completion—when you download your Event Kit, you’ll automatically receive alerts when updates become available.)

Regarding facilities, your room should be large enough for your anticipated turnout, and have wifi, a display and audio system for the Presenter, so that Pairs sitting at tables can all see and hear the program. You can invite families to bring devices (laptops, Chromebooks or tablets all work fine) and/or provide school devices loaned out to families – most often you’ll use a mix of both. Since participants works in pairs, the wifi support and devices needed equal just half your number of attendees. We’ve done “Nights” for 20 and for 220—the more the merrier!

The Result

Family Code Night uniquely excites and mobilizes kids, families and educators for computer science learning, at school and at home. Every pair gets a “CodeOn at Home” flyer that shows them how to continue the coding teamwork at home. Other handouts describe how to find local subsidized home broadband service for low and moderate income families, free curriculum and teacher training for your school, and even how to learn computer science without a computer!

We’d urge any school in the country to join in hosting this unique learning experience.

Scott Borba is Principal of Alice N. Stroud Elementary School In Modesto, California, and a 2017 National Distinguished Principal.

John Pearce is Executive Director of Family Code Night.

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