Game on!

For the last couple of months, Splatspacers have been participating in a Teen Tech program called “Game On!” at the Main Branch of the Durham County Library. Every week a few members have been meeting with a group of teenagers to work with them on the basics of computer game design.

Most of these teens have never coded at all before, so we started with the Scratch platform to introduce the idea of constructing logical sequences of instructions, loops, conditional statements, variables, etc. The graphic drag-and-drop interface of Scratch makes it instantly accessible and gives good visual feedback on the structure of the code being created.
Since the group has grown and waned and changed over the weeks due to schedule conflicts, holidays, weather, etc, we have often just taken the class period to teach someone new the basics, and perhaps make a small interactive sprite-based game. It has been hard to get an impression if this class was having any kind of effect at all.
Then, last week the teen librarian gave us this note from one of the participants (edited for anonymity and minor spelling changes):
7th Grade
Xxxxxx Middle School
I like when the game people come to teach us about programming and making video games because that gives me a chance to learn about technology and get to experience things that I couldn’t do on the regular day base. They make me think of being a technician and engineer when I get older, and that’s why I like their program. I would like for them to keep coming and teach me and other people more about their program.
It’s hard to explain how huge this note was for us. As adult “Makers and Hackers” we tend to measure “success” by something that we made, something complete and finished. But, the kids don’t see it that way. This young lady reminded us that the effect we have isn’t due to success at completing something that we might think is impressive. The real impact is that we are changing their view of what it is possible to learn and to do.
We had forgotten that for most of the participants, this may have been their first experience not as typical technological consumers, but as innovators and creators.
Some of us had heard this before; we had received feedback from the mentoring work we did at an elementary school’s “Robot Camps” that some of the participants had gone on to take math and science classes that they wouldn’t have considered before the Camp. With time and distance, of course, we had forgotten it.
Will Splatspace keep doing this? Absolutely. Some of the teens have moved on to the Twine platform, including using CSS. This summer when school’s out, we hope to create a daytime program with another platform such as Stencyl. The Durham County Library system has been very progressive in their embrace of Maker Education and we hope to be working with them for a long time.