Students in Knoxville and Oak Ridge Break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Computer Programming Lesson

Students from Knox County Schools and Oak Ridge City Schools joined together to break the Guinness World Record for the largest computer programming lesson. Officials from Guinness have now officially certified the world record for the number of students simultaneously learning how to code.

“After an extensive evidence review, we’re delighted to inform your successful attempt at the largest computer programming lesson (multiple venues) is 6,778 participants, and was achieved by CodeTN in Knoxville, TN, USA on 8 November 2017,” Philip Robertson, a New York City-based Adjudicator with the Guinness Book of World Records, told local officials in an email yesterday.

The attempt to break the Guinness World Record was led by Brandon Bruce, co-founder and chief operating officer of Cirrus Insight, and Caleb Fristoe, project manager of CodeTN, a Great Schools Partnership initiative that organizes coding clubs, camps, and competitions. The effort was heavily supported by Knox County Schools (the third largest school district in Tennessee) and its Educational Technology and Information Technology departments.

“Breaking the Guinness World Record shines a bright spotlight on Knoxville and Oak Ridge as global leaders and innovators in STEM education,” Bruce said. “The students, teachers, and parent volunteers were determined to set the record. Everybody did an amazing job, and students got to take home a certificate that says they’re world champions.”

Approximately 67 percent of new jobs in STEM are in computing, which is the largest and fastest growing source of new wages in the U.S., with 500,000 jobs currently available.

“Computer Science will provide the blue-collar work of the future, and by starting today, we can equip our students with the necessary skills to compete for those jobs,” Fristoe said. “We were inspired by the work of Code.org which organizes the annual Hour of Code. We participate in that every year and we decided to make a concerted effort to set a world record. There are now 6,778 local elementary, middle, and high school students who are really excited about coding.”

Norwood Elementary, one of the participating schools, posted on Twitter, “456 students. 55 staff members. 1 world record crushed. Students working together and learning computer science—priceless!”

During the world record attempt, students simultaneously watched an instructional YouTube video featuring local students including Bruce’s daughter who is in 2nd grade. Thousands of students across Knox and Anderson counties followed the video lesson and learned how to code on classroom computers using Scratch, a web application developed by MIT.

“The starting screen in Scratch shows an animated cat,” said Bruce. “You know the students are making progress when they make the cat meow. The next thing they learn is how to apply a repeating loop. That’s when the classroom gets loud with a lot of meowing cats!”

Hundreds of classroom volunteers from local Parent Teacher Associations (PTA), Volunteer Knoxville, and local technology companies like Sword & Shield Enterprise Security served as stewards and witnesses for the world record attempt.

“It was awesome to see the community support for this effort,” said Fristoe. “The teachers and parents and volunteers were every bit as excited as the students to break the world record. The project really brought the community together to achieve a shared goal.”

“This was coding at its finest,” said Theresa Nixon, Director of Instructional Technology at Knox County Schools. “Thousands of students had their first experience with coding. It was a showcase of collaboration and creativity. ”

Becky Ashe is the principal at L&N STEM Academy, one of the many schools to participate in the world record. “Seeing students excited about learning is something every educator loves,” she said. “How cool will it be for a fifth grader today to look at a future edition of the Guinness Book of World Records and say ‘I was part of setting that world record.’”

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