Allen Casto's regular computer graphics students at the Washington County Career Center are juniors and seniors from area high schools, but on Friday he was teaching computer coding basics to Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews.
Matthews joined Casto's class for the Hour of Code, an initiative of the nonprofit Code.org during National Computer Science Education Week aimed at introducing people to the basics of how computers do what they do. In keeping with the event's emphasis that "anybody can learn," the mayor joined in an online tutorial designed to teach folks about computer science.
"I learned a little bit today," Matthews said. "I guess I didn't grow up in the computer age ... but I live and learn every day."
The drag-and-drop tutorial, available free to anyone via computer, tablet or smartphone at Code.org, had the mayor arranging commands to get one of the famous Angry Birds from point A to point B. It also features video lectures from Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Despite the prevalence of computers and other technology in daily life, fewer students are learning how computers actually work today than 10 years ago, Casto said. Computers are easier to use these days, so people don't really have to understand the hows and whys in order to make them work.
"There are a lot of states that don't have computer science education in the schools period or ... it's an elective," Casto said, noting Ohio falls in the latter category.
Computer science education
Software jobs outnumber students 3 to 1. The gap is 1 million jobs over 10 years.
Ninety percent of K-12 schools in the United States do not teach computer science.
In countries including China, the United Kingdom and Australia, computer science is - or will soon be - required in schools.
Fewer than 10 percent of students (just 4 percent of females and 3 percent of students of color) take computer science classes.
Some states allow computer science to count as a math or science credit, and countries like China, Australia and the United Kingdom have made it a requirement or will do so soon.
Code.org says there are three software jobs for every student studying computer science, and 90 percent of K-12 schools in the U.S. do not offer the subject. Learning code basics can start in elementary school, the website says, but fewer than 10 percent of students take such classes, and the rate is even lower for girls and minorities.
Computer graphics students at the career center learn some coding, including how to use programs like Java and Flash.
Senior Zach Ferrier, from Belpre High School, said he wants to continue to learn about and work with coding after high school. He'd eventually like to build websites that assist children with learning disabilities and other challenges.
"I've loved using computers since ... I had my first laptop at 13 or 14," he said.
Senior Rikki Lockhart, from Fort Frye High School, said learning about code is "the beginning of what I really want to do, which is animation."
In class, she's done coding for a website to showcase photos she's edited and digital drawings.
"It can be sometimes challenging, because if you have one (line) right and one wrong, it can mess up your whole" design, she said, recalling when a forgotten pound sign changed the color of her text. "Once you get used to it, it's not too hard. And there's nothing wrong with having a cheat sheet."