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.
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.