Students learn to code with Minecraft alongside Seattle Seahawks Tight End Luke Willson

 |   Jennifer Chen

The Microsoft Store in Bellevue, Wash. was hopping last night. Even though the store has hosted several Hour of Code sessions using Microsoft’s Minecraft tutorial, this session was different. Lots of cameras, lots of kids and parents, and lots of fans waiting to catch a glimpse of Luke Willson, Seattle Seahawks tight end and basic superhuman. Willson was there to learn to code alongside 20 pretty lucky and smart students.

But before Willson took the stage, the students were treated to an appearance from team mascot Blitz. Blitz spent the evening making everyone laugh, giving out tons of free hugs and photos, and even learning to code a little himself!

While Kurt Steck introduces Willson, Blitz gets the crowd pumped.
While Kurt Steck introduces Willson, Blitz gets the crowd pumped.

Kurt Steck, General Manager of Audience and Platform Marketing in Microsoft’s Developer Experience and Evangelism organization kicked off the event by telling these young students why coding is so important.

“Coding is becoming as fundamental to education as reading, writing and arithmetic,” he said. “There is technology in everything, but more and more, we don’t see it working behind the scenes. You need to know how it works!”

Steck then introduced Willson. Before Willson got down to coding with the kids though, he briefly chatted with Steck about his favorite Xbox game. “I’m not that good at it, but I’ll always be a ‘Halo’ guy,” Willson said.

He also made an important connection for kids who feel that technology and football don’t have a lot in common by describing how the NFL uses Microsoft’s Surface Pro devices on the sidelines during games. “We get to use the Surface to see the aerial shot of our plays pre-snap and post-snap. This way we can always see what works and what mistakes we need to fix.”

The students were all in when it came to helping Willson learn the basics of coding, something he’d never done before. His computer science exposure was pretty limited where he attended school in Ontario, so he was excited to tackle the challenge head on at Wednesday’s Hour of Code.

As they worked through Minecraft tutorials, Willson and the kids ran into several challenges. While they programmed their Minecraft avatars to build houses, navigate around creepers and avoid lava pits, Willson asked students for help and celebrated with them when they got the coding right.

“Look at that! I didn’t know I could do that!” Willson said at one point.

Willson said it’s important for students to find and pursue their passions. He explained, “When I go home, people tend to make a big deal just because I’m on TV every Sunday. I get it, it’s cool, but not everyone has a passion to play football. If a kid’s passion and talent is to write code, they should feel great about doing that.”

For the most part, the tutorial was easy for the group. But they got hung up on one of the difficult “if” statements – a fundamental component of all computer code. Keeping positive, Willson and the kids buckled down and concentrated on getting it right. After a few minutes of working together, they ran the program to test out their code.

Willson celebrates with students after they figured out how to code an “if” statement during an Hour of Code at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue, Wash.
Willson celebrates with students after they figured out how to code an “if” statement during an Hour of Code at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue, Wash.

Touchdown! They nailed it! Willson and the kids had successfully written and executed the “if” statement.

“I had fun out there!” Willson said. “[Coding] is so new to me, and I’m not familiar with it, so I was learning too. It’s fun to come out after practice and see the kids learning and just have some fun with them.”

Interested in learning how to code? Be sure to check out the Minecraft Hour of Code tutorial that Willson and students conquered together Wednesday evening. You can also visit the Microsoft Imagine Hour of Code page and begin your journey today.

Microsoft News Center Staff

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