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A student completes the Minecraft-themed coding tutorial that Microsoft built with Code.org. (Microsoft Photo)

Code.org is giving low-income students a chance to learn how to code through a free course called “Computer Science Discoveries.”

The yearlong course, unveiled this week at Code.org’s TeacherCon conference in Houston, will be taught by more than 800 teachers during the school year. It’s designed for students in grades 7-9 and teaches Web design, physical computing and game creation.

More than 30,000 students are expected to take CS Discoveries.

The program is part of the Seattle-based non-profit group’s initiative to broaden minority and low-income community participation in the computer sciences. It aims to help teachers, too, by focusing on instructors who have never taught computer science before.

Renee Coley, a middle-school English teacher who didn’t have a background in computer science, had high praise for this summer’s training program. “It was an incredible experience, and I felt valued and respected as a teacher and facilitator,” she said in a news release.

The professional learning program begins with a five-day, intensive summer kickoff, followed by four additional workshops throughout the year.

Code.org and its partner, Adafruit, are helping teachers out by subsidizing 70 percent of the cost of Adafruit’s Circuit Playground, an Arduino-based circuit board kit. And at schools where more than half of the student population receives free or reduced-cost meals, the kits will be given out for free.

Circuit Playground spices up electronics with sensors, lights and sounds to capture the kids’ attention. The solder-free board kits and USB cables are part of a small pool of materials that are meant to be used for CS Discoveries, along with Code.org’s App Lab. Code.org says the curriculum is set up so that two students can share one kit.

CS Discoveries uses computer science to stimulate creativity and communication among middle schoolers. “It’s fun, because a lot of the time you get to collaborate with other people, and you also get to get some insight on other people’s ideas,” one student said in a video that also featured Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, were among contributors who donated a total of $23 million to Code.org to train thousands of public-school teachers in computer science. Other donors included Microsoft, Google and Infosys.

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