Jen Looper is the Corona SDK Boston Ambassador and creator of the Wellesley Code Academy. Gathering at the local library on Wednesday evenings, Jen taught a group of young teens to design and develop cross-platform games with Corona SDK, in just four short sessions.

Having teenage kids who are too old for summer camp and too young to get a summer job presents a real challenge to parents during the long summer vacation. I decided to open a program that would benefit the kids in town so that they could learn from each other and make connections in a friendly space. I started cold calling to pitch the idea of a kids’ Code Academy and made a connection with our town’s library. They provided a space with computers and offered a grant to offset costs and keep the classes free of charge. Corona Labs was equally receptive and provided reduced-cost software licenses. I installed Corona on the 12 desktops in the library’s seminar room along with Sublime Text 2 and Dropbox, registered a domain name and created a quick WordPress site, syllabus, and contact form… and the Wellesley Code Academy was born!

With only basic marketing, the program filled up quickly. We soon had about 12 teens enrolled, ranging in age from 13-16. The majority of these were boys, but I was happy to see two girls participating. To help encourage girls in programming, I enlisted the help of my two daughters, ages 12 and 14, as TAs for the class. After the first class, I realized the wisdom of this decision as the girls demonstrated that they could debug with the best of them and were able to quickly help troubleshoot code issues. 

It was enlightening to discover where the kids were in their exposure to programming. Most had started game development by learning Scratch, MIT’s open source game creating tool. One student was starting on Python, another was quite good in JavaScript and had a game written in Objective-C in the App Store. Another had no knowledge at all of programming, but was willing to try based on his love of gaming. The varied levels of preparation made the class multifaceted from the start, as the more advanced students needed to be challenged, while the beginners needed encouragement.

I followed a pattern for each class: I explained some fundamentals of Lua, then showed the kids some of the APIs available, with samples from the SDK’s library, and then concentrated on one element to code during a class. In the third class session, for example, I demoed sprite sheets in the process of creating an alien shooter game based on Carlos Yanez’s tutorial on tutsplus.com.

My big takeaway from the creation of the Wellesley Code Academy is to be prepared to handle student frustration due to the amount of typing needed to create anything worth looking at. Peer TAs help a lot in this area. Set expectations – students may think they are ready to create the next great RPG for multi-users… but they are not! Start with the basics and then gradually build up a single project. Expect attrition – the best students will stick with it and start to ‘get it’ in the end, even with only four short classes. The biggest reward: that moment when the student’s code compiles and they say, “I got it!”

-Jen Looper, Boston Corona SDK Ambassador

Jen Looper is Senior Developer at PAID.com, Boston’s Corona SDK Ambassador, and lead developer at LadeezFirstMedia. 

  1. Thanks for sharing getting kids/teenagers to have real “hands-on” coding experience! Good coding requires discipline as well as cultivating good habits. Seems like a win-win prototype addition for revamping or revitalizing any dated educational system.

  2. That really great to here your story. I wish I had that kind of teaching when I first started Corona. It would of made my life a bit easier and would answered most of my question I had.. but they are all solved. I like how it ranges from no programmer to someone who like know C-, Python JavaScript, including two girls that is really impressive.

    :)

  3. Good work! Love to see stuff like this. I’m a long time programmer who has been teaching high school math for seven years. I’ve also mentored a robotics club for nearly the same length of time. I think that you can do an awful lot without having to write a ton of code, especially with Corona SDK. In fact, I think some of the most interesting exercises involve very little code. For instance, a lot of troubleshooting would be difficult if not impossible if you could not break a problem a down and isolate all the factors.

    Of course, graphics and sound are the most obvious “fun” and they do require more coding. But even the most basic aspects of those tasks can be done with very little code in Corona and experiments are very useful for learning how the physics engine works, how order and grouping works and how interacting with media works. Aside from that, learning simple algorithms can be fun and challenging. For example, having kids discover and create their own sorting algorithms or string parsing routines. And don’t forget simple file I/O.

    Ok, that’s just my two cents for anyone that cares.

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