STEM Video Game Challenge and Teaching Youngsters to Program

Hi.  Do you have a kid at home who is 8?  Or are you a kid who is 8?  Perhaps you are a kid who is 14, or 34.   What would you like to do when you grow up?  Would you like to help the environment, work for major league baseball, or discover something about the human body that helps everyone live longer and happier?  Well, what could you learn to do that would help you with any of those goals?

Programming.

Programming computers is necessary for everything, from the giant scoreboard at the ballpark to discovering which mutated gene a group of cancer patients have in common.  Computer programmers help make weather stations function more effectively, help us analyze data more completely, and they can also program video games!

So, why doesn’t everyone program?  For the same reasons that not everyone plays the guitar:  Not everyone has a computer, or a guide to programming (book or person) and not everyone will look at moving pixels on a computer screen and think, “I want to learn how to move those pixels!”  Personally, I took an informatics class in my German high school, in 1988.  I took the class because all my friends were taking it: yes, I hung out with, and really enjoyed the company of a crowd of geeky boys.  But the class was boring, I didn’t like the projects we did and so I did not try to understand how to program.  We were making a receipt.  So that a store clerk could use a computer to type in the prices, and the receipt software would calculate a total, tax and put it all into a printable format.  OMG is was so boring!

When you are 17 (and when you are any age) it is very easy to get discouraged and think, “I don’t need to understand this, I will never use it.”  Learning anything always takes some effort.  Making an effort is always risky, because you may not triumph!  You may find out that you can’t figure out whatever it is, and 90% of the time you will be sitting next to someone who looks at you funny because you aren’t figuring it out!

The magic happens when your interest and curiosity wins out over your fear of failure.  So we all need interesting songs to play on our guitar, and we all need cool things to program!  Cool is defined by the user, so there is really no telling what will inspire each person to program or learn guitar…  we can just listen to as many songs as possible and check out as many computer programs as possible!

So what can you do to get your 8 year old to learn how to program?  What can you do as a 14 year old who would like to become a valuable crew member on a marine life observation station in the Pacific Ocean?  How can you learn to program?  You do the same as if you wanted to learn guitar.  Find a guitar you like, find a book or a mentor you like (or both) and practice.  Some mentors will be smart but not polite, some mentors will be nice but not smart, and your best mentors will be the mean kids who brag about how great they are and act like you don’t know anything.  Listen to what everyone tells you and then make your own decisions.  Let everyone talk, don’t waste time arguing with them about whether you are smart.

And then practice.  Make things.  Join a Game Jam, join a computer programming class or club, talk to your local biology lab and see what kinds of programs they need.Ask your teacher if she needs a spreadsheet that can calculate grades.  Make Things!

The STEM Video Game Challenge was started by a bunch of nice folks who wanted to give you all something to make. Next year in February there will be another chance to compete for prizes with kids all over the country (USA).  There are also likely competitions you can enter in your own country, or local city or state.  Enter all kinds of competitions!  Even if your thing is awful.  Enter!

The http://www.stemchallenge.org/

And then come back and tell me how you did it!  Did you use GameMakerSmall BasicScratch?  These are all good ways to start programming, with GameMaker being the most advanced.

You could also write your game designs on paper, and collaborate with your friends (or enemies) who know how to program.  They may show you a few programming details to get you started.  The STEM Video Game Challenge has a Design Category, too.  Not all winners have playable games, yet!  There are programs (Commercial = not free): Gamestar Mechanic, Little Big Planet, etc. for making games without programming.  Maybe you all know of some others?

OK.  Get busy!  And show me what you make!  Send me your links!  Share your triumphs.  Let me see how you made programming your thing.  Let me see what FUN you had!

 

One thought on “STEM Video Game Challenge and Teaching Youngsters to Program

  1. barry abrams

    This is very well written. It also gets at the heart of what makes or motivates individuals to do something. What motivates me to learn about video game creation is being able to expose students of color and females to another avenue of opportunity, entrepreneurship, and careers.

    If the right spark is lit before students perceive it to be too difficult to learn, they will triumph. I think this is where Mr. Jones and the Patriots Technology Training Center’s format hits the mark.

    I will be looking for your e-mail so I can send you info on exhibiting or participating as an instructor at the 2012 Patriots Video Gaming Conference at Prince George’s Community College Sat. Dec. 1, 2012.

    Reply

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