Building games on a Saturday morning

The sixth grader stares intently at the screen, working the mouse and entering numbers on the keyboard. As the work progresses, a huge grin spreads across his face. He then pokes his friend, sitting next to him. “Hey!” he says, “Look what I can do!!”

On Saturday, about two dozen students, parents and teachers came to school to learn how to program. As part of the annual Computer Science Education Week which promotes the learning of Computer Science skills including programming, ICS held what may become the first of many Beginners’ Game Code-A-Thons. Using gaming as a hook, and emphasizing fun over strict programming protocols, two three-hour workshops were held to get younger students building games using the drag & drop block programming environment of Scratch and start older students learning Java code with the easy interface of Greenfoot. The goal was to learn enough of the program to build a game. Participants were given an opportunity to explore the program and see sample games and simulations. They were then walked through the creation of a simple game, and then given time to build their own games.

Nadia and Helen learn from Brendan

Turnout was not in huge numbers, but there was a decent cross-section of students and teachers from elementary school to high school. Several parent-child teams came in with both learning together and from each other.

Helen, the ES Art teacher was asking how to change the background to her Scratch program. “Can I show you?” her 3rd grade daughter, Nadia, asked. A big grin came over Helen’s face. “Oh, yes please!”

Seeing teachers become the taught was one of the many exciting aspects of the day. In the Greenfoot session, that aspect was completely on display. Adults – teachers, parents and the HS Principal – outnumbered students learning the system. They were eager learners, with various purposes – to learn programming, to build a game, to see what the fuss was about. The leaders of the session often found it challenging dealing with the diverse group. Particularly as they were students. Josh (9th grade) and Stephan (10th grade) ran the session with minimal input from me. As they worked to explain things clearly and keep things moving at a pace that suited most if not all, showing things in front and moving around to assist their students, both boys gained new insights into learning. Josh looked over at me at one point and said simply, “Mr Iglar, teaching is hard.” I looked at the principal and suggested we do more of this kind of event.

Was it worthwhile? You bet. Participants all enjoyed the sessions and expressed their appreciation of the students who led the workshops. Many were most appreciative of the fun prospect of building their own games, while a few were particularly interested in developing their ability to program in general.

Will we do it again? Definitely!

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