Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Middle Schoolers Build Video Games at University of New Orleans Coding Camp


The University of New Orleans computer science department partnered with local non-profit Core Element to host a hands-on coding camp for 32 students in grades 6-9. The weeklong program was organized and promoted by Core Element and hosted on the UNO campus June 26-30.

Core Element promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the greater New Orleans area through professional development for teachers and enrichment activities for students. In addition to the coding camp at UNO, Core Element held other summer camps this year focused on engineering, programming and robotics.

Campers learned the fundamentals of computer programming and software design in a fun way, by building their own video games. Just as importantly, they learned why mastering mathematics is so essential and how to apply mathematics in practical ways to creatively build their own projects.

Ted Holmberg, industry liaison for the UNO computer science department, served as camp director. Four UNO computer science majors served as code mentors: Lily Stricklin, Chase Lirette, Chris Wadsworth and Nolan Sherman.

"It's important that we support outreach initiatives such as this one with Core Element, especially if we wish for the New Orleans tech community to grow and prosper," said Mahdi Abdelguerfi, chair of UNO’s Department of Computer Science.

The coding camp curriculum taps into enthusiasm for video games, which is an effective vehicle for conveying the importance of technology and math. Campers were challenged to use mathematics as the basis for expressing ideas about what they wanted to see in a game that they would design and create. Arithmetic, algebra and geometry were all given a meaningful context for making the game work: allowing characters to move, detecting collisions or applying gravity to game objects. Campers then developed their game software using real-world technologies such as JavaScript and Canvas API.

The campers’ mastery of the math concepts became evident in their evolving game designs. For example, one team was able to turn a single-player game into a cooperative two-player game by adapting the code. Another team designed a snowman-themed game with a storyline, characters and fully realized snow world with music, animations and multiple levels of winter. Campers left with the ability to create, modify and customize code on their own.

A gallery of games created by campers can be viewed online here.