Posted on Wednesday, May 11, 2016
As parents arrived at Viscount Montgomery’s open house this month, they were greeted by a club of keen young people excited to show off their video games.
But the students didn’t just play the games – they created and coded the games themselves.
Grade 7 student Rhyanna said she liked gaming but “didn’t have a clue” how to code before signing up for the weekly meetings of her east-end school’s code club. Four weeks later, it was a different story.
She had coded her first game, Crossy Road, which looks like Frogger. She moved on to Geometry Dash with its cube that jumps to avoid a mouse. Her third game, Don’t Touch the Snake, needs little explanation.
Viscount Montgomery was the first HWDSB school to host Hamilton Code Club, a new partnership with the Industry-Education Council of Hamilton, ABACUS and Software Hamilton to foster coding in schools. Other HWDSB elementary schools involved this year include Adelaide Hoodless, Ancaster Meadow, Dalewood, Norwood Park, Pauline Johnson, Queensdale and Queen Victoria.
The club represents the first step by students in the promising field of computer science and programming. By 2019 there will be a shortage of 182,000 information and communications technology (ICT) workers in Canada, explains program co-ordinator Beth Gibson.
One possible solution to this gap was on display at the open house, as teacher Sarah Weston’s Grade 7/8 students explained to parents how they moved through six weeks of lessons and are now able to create games of their own.
The program they use, Hopscotch, makes coding easy because students can drag and drop segments of code – written in English not a programming language – into their program to make characters move.
“There is a lot of independent reading, problem solving and decoding as students try to understand something and come up with synonyms,” Weston said. “After two weeks the students are asking each other for advice rather than using the instructional videos.”
Educators like the strong curriculum links – and getting students excited about a new school activity.
“Schools often pay attention to the sports teams and other groups that not everyone participates in,” Principal Stephen Yull said. “This allows us to dig deeper with iPads, so students can use their imagination and creativity. You get to pursue the ideas that you have and how to design things that you have thought of.”
Club mentor Kevin Browne – a professor of computer science at Mohawk College – said the strong link between computer science and math becomes clear as soon as students understand the importance of the X- and Y-axis when it comes to moving their characters.
“We begin with video tutorials and a game like Frogger, and they learn about loops and conditionals, which are key to coding at higher levels,” said Browne, who has a PhD in computer science and organizes tech and start-up events with Software Hamilton.
He’s excited about code clubs growing the local tech community, noting that cities can only flourish as tech hubs when they have a population of people literate in code.
Weston’s six-week stint within the Hamilton Code Club umbrella has wrapped up – but her students are still keen. They drop by on breaks to sign out iPads and continue their learning and experimentation.
She notes that the club of 15 students included five girls, including Rhyanna.
“I learned that a lot of work goes into coding and when you make a big game you would have to think about where the controller is and so many different things,” Rhyanna said. “I really liked it and would like to make video games one day.”