Have you ever been frustrated at the amount of time your child spends on their iPad or computer playing games? It seems that’s all they love to do. All other stuff lose their appeal because nothing else can compete with the fun coming from these games.
I noticed that with my kids. A LOT. I thought why these games seem to engage so much. But then I thought, maybe this strong interest can be used for teaching opportunity. Instead of just playing on it, they should try create it. And that’s how I thought places like Code Camp may be able to help.
Code Camp in progress...quiet please!
I write this blog up because I know a lot of parents have questions whether Code Camp is something suitable for their kids or not. Will their kids like it? Will they find it too hard? Will they come out of the Camp able to program a game?And usually when we send our kids to school gave us very little information of what's going on inside the classroom. So, when Jon had the opportunity to go to Code Camp, I decided to go with him as his support aid, and took lots of pictures and videos, so I can tell you first hand what it was all about.
In the last school holiday I received an invitation from Hire Up, a service provider for people with disability, to join a Code Camp One Day Workshop in their head office. At first I dismissed it, because I wasn’t sure my son Jonathan would be able to participate. I have fair reasons. He has limited speech, struggles with focus, and sitting down in a classroom. He would need one on one support to finish this complex task.
Then I have my other reason. The word CODING itself is already quite intimidating. It is not English, if you know what I mean? It’s a bunch of unfamiliar, out of this planet string of language that I can not make sense of. I used to work in IT industry as a designer, worked with programmers and I still find all those opening bracket, slash, closing bracket, a href, semi colon and the rest of their colony just weird.
My son struggles with English, communication is a big issue, let alone coding! It’s like he’s still trying to learn how to build sand castle, and he’s asked to build a skyscrapper! I thought, “Nah…forget it!”
On the other hand, I know he likes computer. He self taught himself using computer apps like Microsoft Powerpoint, Word, Paint, and he’s quite capable to make his own movies from scratch in iMovie. So, I thought, maybe...just maybe, he probably would be able to do this coding stuff. A little hint of faith mixed with lots of doubt. But hey, I decided to just give it a go.
When we got there, the other kids were ready with their support worker or their parent. I notice most of them were quite verbal. My son was one of the least speaking one there. Each kid got their own laptop and table. You must bring a mouse though if your child is not proficient in using the laptop's trackpad. The classroom was quite spacey, good sized, each table was not so close together. There was room enough to stand up, move your legs if your kid required some stretching for a break. Each support worker sat with the child and there were a few tutors from Code Camp, constantly going around to check how everyone was going and ready to help. When we went there, there were about 10 kids I think, each with adults, but still the whole atmosphere was pretty quiet and organised. It was a good atmosphere for learning.
Everyone started with the same project. And the teaching staff guided you step by step, slowly and was very understanding with the fact that everyone was new at this. That last part is important because it helped the kids feel more relaxed to approach the staff. The main objective was to create a simple game, similar to Mario Bros game where the character had to conquer some obstacles to pass to the next level and so on.
Our task involved creating a few scenes, a character and then animate it using the available codes. There were codes readily available to use in the “Code Deck”. You just need to drag and drop onto the relevant element of the scene.
The scenes have been pre-designed, much like templates. You can choose which one to use and make some alteration. For example you can change the background colour using the colour picker tool. You can then add obstacles that will kill the character if it bumps into them. They have various options available, from blocks to alphabet shapes. You add these obstacles into the scene to make the journey a little hard, so the game will be more interesting.
Once you add all those elements in, you can start adding the animation action code to the character. What do you want them to do? Fly or jump or any other action? You can adjust the speed of the flying or walking or jumping. The faster the speed, the harder it is for the player to tackle the obstacles. It’s quite fun to do the trial and error because now you get to switch from being a creator to a player. The kids must learn to imagine from the player’s perspective, whether the game is too hard or too easy. You must give enough challenge, but not frustrate them too much that they will give up. Or make it too easy and players will lose interest. It is quite a delicate balance to keep.
All of these can be done with the pre-built codes. But you still need to listen carefully to the instructions. I got stuck a few times, especially when it came to the maths part and the many steps in the instructions. But the tutors were there to help you. They were patient and helpful. They always went around the class, checking on everyone’s progress before the teacher moved onto the next step.
The workshop was quite long, it ran from 10am till about 3pm with breaks in between. But the kids coped really well. They even made some friends. I was pleased to see Jon finding other kids with similar interests and played together. Some may not be able to continue in the same task for that long. I noticed Jon's interest was also not as strong as when he first began the day. But overall he had a fun day. He had a few giggles when his character flew and died. When he felt a little tired, I let him walk around a bit, or take a short break at the back of the room.
The staff were flexible, allowing the kids who need a movement break to do so safely in the class. I think workshops this long is more suitable for older kids, perhaps 10 years old and above. If you are interested in having 1 hour weekly session, it may be worthwhile to try for younger kids.
My feedback on the camp is positive. It certainly encourages kids to be on the other end of the game. It challenges them to think creatively and critically, using their interest, logic and imagination. The facility was great, the staff were patient, friendly and understanding and the program itself was paced at the right speed. Since this was a program for special needs, it may be differently paced from the mainstream one.
Bear in mind though that learning to code will take some time. And you need to keep practising to get the logic of it. So, for the children with strong interest to create games, I would encourage regular sessions. Just like any other activity, swimming for example, you need to go weekly till you are able to be good at it. So, have a realistic expectation, think of it as a long term activity than a short one.
So, do you think this class would be suitable for your child? Every child has different interest and strength and you know your child best. I hope this article helps you decide!