Hector Serrano, 16, had a problem.
On the small silver laptop in front of him, a miniature figure of Princess Anna of Arendelle was ice skating, etching complex snowflakes into a field of blue.
But they weren’t the right snowflakes. And it was Serrano’s job to fix it.
“I don’t know. I’m making more complicated snowflakes than it asked me to do,” he said. “They’re supposed to be squares, but this looks like a dreamcatcher.”
Drawing snowflakes was one of many puzzles students were solving using basic computer codes, during the Hour of Code event held in the Tokay High School Library.
About 100 students volunteered their time (and earned a bit of extra credit) to complete an online program teaching the foundations of coding. They joined tens of millions of students around the world trying coding for the first time during Computer Science Education Week.
The event was spearheaded by Julie Fukunaga, 16, and members of the STEAM Team, a school club of students interested in science, technology, engineering, art and math.
“There’s a lack of computer programming training,” Fukunaga said. “This way, people can learn the basics, and it might be a prelude to science and technology careers. Even if they don’t, programming teaches creativity and problem solving.”
Fukunaga is a mostly self-taught programmer, using coding for her projects in agricultural engineering.
The club is advised by Sandi Starr, who teaches AP environmental science and biology at the school.
“Future solutions are going to come from them knowing these computer languages,” she said.
Once signed in and settled at their computers, students logged on at www.code.org/learn and selected an hour long set of lessons. They chose from “Star Wars,” “Minecraft,” “Frozen” and other franchises. Some students shared screens, while others took on the challenge by themselves.
Annabelle Rankin, 17, shouted instructions to the room and directed questions to older, more experienced coders.
“They can all do this at home, too. A lot of kids don’t know this resource exists. It’s set up so you can teach yourself,” she said.
Throughout the library, students used lines of code on their computer screens to make droids move, princesses ice skate and miners cut down trees or smash rocks. The online program is easy to use. Each step is broken down into simple stages and uses familiar characters and cartoons to encourage young coders.
Shani Malik, 15, worked her way through the “Star Wars”-themed lessons.
“My parents made me come here. The school called my mom and she put it on speakerphone. They were talking about a coding class and my dad wanted me to take it,” she said.
Malik, who had reached level four in just a few minutes, found the work interesting and the website easy to use.
Across the room, Andrew Sarantos, 17, completed 14 levels in about half an hour.
“I might show this to my little brother, see how fast he can do it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Serrano still struggled with creating one particular snowflake. When the figure moves incorrectly, he knew immediately his code was off.
“It’s supposed to trace this pattern. It’s stressing me out. I’m missing something,” he said.
Serrano cleared the screen, then started to tackle the puzzle from the start. He added a few lines of code, then rearranged them. With a deep breath, he clicked the button to run his code. The tiny skating princess etched out a perfect snowflake of delicate squares.
“Look! I got it,” he said. “This feels amazing.”
The STEAM Team’s next project is the NorCal Science and Technology Festival, planned for Feb. 20, 2016 at Tokay High School.
“We want to give students a chance to be real scientists, and learn about careers,” Fukunaga said.