UNB’s video game camp teaches middle school kids how to code

On the drive to his first day of coding camp, 12-year-old Pranav Shukla excitedly waited for his father, Dhirendra Shukla, to park in the parking lot of the University of New York’s Information Technology Center. -Brunswick.

Starting in eighth grade in the fall, Pranav is a lover of computer games and programming. UNB’s video game summer camp allows him to dive into both interests and merge them, his father said.

“I hope he goes away and continues to develop this independently and gets the skills he’s passionate about,” Shukla said.

Middle school students learn how to create a version of the computer game Pong during a week-long video game coding camp hosted by UNB.

After a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the camp is back in person at the Faculty of Computing’s Information Technology Center.

This isn’t the first coding camp for 12-year-old Pranav Shukla. However, UNB’s video game development camp allows the middle schooler to combine his interests in computer games and programming. (Submitted by Dhirendra Shukla)

Learn by doing and watching

This summer, the university is offering three one-week camps for middle and high school students interested in learning how to program and develop video games.

According to Connor Wilson, a computer science instructor at UNB who designed the learning modules, children learn to use a programming language called C Sharp (C#).

During the lesson, Wilson has his screen projected onto the whiteboard at the front of the class so the students can follow along step by step. There are support staff who travel to help the class of 20 children if needed.

“The kids seem really involved, which is really amazing to see them really taking an interest in it,” Wilson said. “I was joking with [the kids] a bit and I said, ‘You’re all computer programmers’ after they made their first program and people cheered, which made me laugh.”

Connor Wilson, assistant professor of education, explains that the camps focus on developing and designing video games. The goal is for students to hone their skills in the basics of programming. (Submitted by Connor Wilson)

During the day, attendees alternate between plugged-in and unplugged activities, according to Alex McInnis, a fourth-year computer science student at UNB and co-instructor of the coding courses.

Connected activities consist of programming and coding to develop the game Pong. Unplugged activities are all about coming up with the elements needed to make a game. This includes selecting music and learning what constitutes good character design in a video game.

“It’s good to have a reward. So, at the end of their lesson, these kids have something they could walk away with, which is play,” McInnis said.

The reward

McInnis is confident that participants leave with the “fundamentals” needed to go home and build on the game of Pong if they wish and move on to more complex coding projects.

“I hope they walk away with, not just their finished project, but a sense of accomplishment, knowing they did it. They can do it again and make something a little more complex, being able to tackle a project like this,” McInnis said.

The program was originally designed for 12 students, but community demand increased the number to 20. There are about 40 students on the waiting list for the next session, according to Wilson.

As a parent and an engineer himself, Shukla hopes this project will encourage his son to pursue his dreams and passions.

“When you think of coding, you think of math, most people get nervous. I want him to be excited. Once you get excited, you can keep building and building that momentum,” Shukla said.

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