"Star Wars" joins "Hour of Code" to teach kids coding – CBS News

Kids who want to learn how to code will now have the power of the “Force” behind them. On Monday, Code.org revealed that it’s partnered with Disney to create a free online computer science tutorial featuring classic “Star Wars” characters Princess Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2, along with Rey and BB-8 — characters from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the upcoming new film in the series — to make coding accessible for kids.

This new program is part of the third annual global Hour of Code campaign, part of Computer Science Education Week, which runs from December 7 through 13.

“For generations, ‘Star Wars’ has sparked kids’ curiosity and imagination, and we hope the appeal of characters like Princess Leia and Rey will help fuel greater participation in science and math, especially among girls, around the world,” Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, in a press release. “Computer science has helped shape our legacy and changed the way movies are made, which is why programs like the Hour of Code are so important to us.”

The new “Star Wars: Building a Galaxy with Code” program comes in two versions. One gives users an introduction to the coding language JavaScript so they can create their own “Star Wars” game using blocks-to-text environment. For instance, a user manipulates the BB-8 robot from the new film around a desert environment by plugging in JavaScript commands like “moveRight ()” or “moveDown ().”

Another, tablet-friendly version that uses a slightly easier drag-and-drop tool will be available in the next few weeks for beginner and younger students. The JavaScript version is recommended for ages 11 and up, while the second version will designed for children between 6 and 10 years old.

The program is currently available in English, but will be translated into more than 40 languages. This online lesson is supported through “Star Wars: Force for Change,” a program that uses the international popularity of the “Star Wars” films and their characters for philanthropic and educational programs.

Disney has also pledged to donate $100,000 to support Code.org efforts to introduce science education to after-school programs nationwide.

Behind this entire initiative is the desire to introduce more children to a skill that is becoming increasingly useful in a computer-driven world.

Part of the emphasis on female characters like Princess Leia and Rey is intended to help bridge the gender gap in the tech world. Only about 23 percent of computing jobs are occupied by women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In education, the statistics are just as discouraging — just 18 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

“Millions of us have been transported to a galaxy far, far away thanks to the creativity of the team behind ‘Star Wars,'” Hadi Partovi, co-founder and CEO of Code.org said in the release. “Every one of us, especially young boys and girls, should also have the chance to learn how to power our own creativity with computer science.”