PocketC.H.I.P. Goes to Middle School

Earlier this week, students at West Oakland Middle School learned how to create their own video games using PocketC.H.I.P. and PICO-8!

In honor of Computer Science Education Week, Salesforce.org was hosting three one-hour lessons at a local school and they needed volunteers. Being a newbie to NTC, with admittedly only a little PocketC.H.I.P. experience before my first day of work, I realized I could learn and help at the same time!

Before getting there all I knew about the event was that middle school students would be taught how to code using PICO-8 on PocketC.H.I.P.. And that we would be assisting up to 60 students in one lesson!

At first, that worried me a bit. I have experience teaching hands-on coding workshops and currently teach a semester-long class at California College of the Arts. But the max amount of students I’ve had in those classes have been around 18. This was not only going to be my first time learning how to code on PocketC.H.I.P. but also my first time being around this many young students.

The lessons were lead by the fantastic family duo of Mare and Jessica. Together, they make up Sparkiverse, a group that focuses on after-school programs to creatively introduce kids to STEM. Any worries I had about students not getting their questions answered quickly vanished when I saw how many helpers had shown up to assist the students.

The student’s first task was to create a character sprite (computer graphic in video-game speak) and learn how to display it on their screen. Luckily, I’m familiar with programming, so when it came to helping the students, I could troubleshoot indentations that were missing or loops that were not closed.

But when it came to the PICO-8 interface and how to interact with it I was learning right along with the students. With Jessica’s clear instructions they—I mean WE—learned how to create a background for a sprite to live on and how to move the sprite around with arrow keys.

Some of the students had not coded before and were a bit intimidated at first. But once they typed 3 lines of code and watched their sprite whiz across the screen, they felt excited and encouraged. Coding wasn’t hard. The instant visual result of their code that PICO-8 provided was invaluable to the student’s learning experience. The kids were making games in no time and having a blast at it.

I was surprised and delighted by how many students raised their hands when Jessica asked, “Who has coded before?” I remember typing lessons and trying not to die of dysentery on the Oregon Trail but when I got to middle school there weren’t any programming lessons being taught in the classroom.

For the experienced coders, there were additional steps with the code printed out so they could work ahead. I really appreciated the students having that option since I’ve witnessed varying levels of skills in my own teaching experiences. For more resources on learning PICO-8, check out one of our previous blog posts.

One student from earlier that day was interested in learning more about programming and asked me if he could purchase a PocketC.H.I.P.. We also chatted about how getting better at programming was about practice and having fun. Shortly after telling him he could indeed purchase one Salesforce.org announced that they were donating pocketC.H.I.P.s to the teachers! I was thrilled that the students would have the opportunity to continue to craft their coding skills.

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Honestly, I thought teaching younger kids would be scarier than it was. Instead, it was a rich experience where I could teach the kids while they and Sparkiverse taught me. I left imagining of opportunities that would get me back in the middle school classroom. Luckily, I come from the land of PocketC.H.I.P.s and am focusing on education here at NTC. So, watch out C.H.I.P.sters and Pocketeers!

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3 Comments

This sounds like a lot of fun. If I was still teaching, I would have liked a classroom set of the pocketchips. But, I am retired now and don’t intend going back into a classroom.

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