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CircleCI Engineer Tad Whitaker knew he would teach kids about software principles when he volunteered to participate in an international program called Hour of Code. But as he helped students at San Francisco’s Argonne Elementary School for two days this week, he had a surprise: a rise in productivity and engagement when a technical problem forced the students to pair program.

“It was amazing,” he said. “A technical problem actually caused better collaboration and helped some of the slower students make progress.”

Whitaker had planned to use a game developed by Disney around their new film “Moana”, but only half the computers in the Argonne computer lab could run the game. After pairing up the students, he explained the programming concept of having a driver (who controls the keyboard and mouse) and a navigator (who describes the instructions) so they could all use the new game.

“It worked out perfectly,” he said. “They answered each other’s questions, got unstuck together and progressed further into the game than I expected as a result.”

The Hour of Code program is run by Code.org. (Full disclosure: Code.org uses CircleCI to test its curriculum software) Hour of Code targets school-aged children from around the world and from all walks of life; officials expect tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries (speaking 45 different languages) to participate this year.