Butch M. is a QA Engineer and bacon connoisseur who has been at Daxko since 2012.
December 7-13th is Computer Science Education week here in the U.S., and with it comes a call for technical volunteers to go into schools to speak and lead students through an Hour of Code put on by non-profit Code.org. This year several teammates from Daxko signed up to participate. Here at Daxko, we’re all about giving back to the community through our semi-annual Impact Days, toy drives, and other collection drop-offs during the year. I really felt like Hour of Code was a way I could give back to the next generation of young thinkers, and it allowed me to do just that!
Matt C. and I were invited to speak at Shades Mountain Elementary to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students. I’m not going to lie – it wasn’t quite what I was thinking when I signed up, but we came up with a plan to keep the children’s attention for a 50 minute presentation. We kicked everything off with a quick introduction of who we are and what we do, followed up by a short demo of what I do as an Automation Engineer. I showed the children how easy it is to create a script that can automatically log them into their accounts at Lego.com. I walked through the 8 lines of code with them and explained what each line was doing. We had some good questions from the crowd along with some “wows”. Our hope in showing this was to inspire the children to find something they repeat often and to automate it with code.
Next, we gave the students some background about the history of computing and explained that computers are everywhere (phones, refrigerators, cars, etc.).
We then demoed how to control a remote control BB-8 with code. We used an iPhone app called Tickle to program the BB-8 using Scratch, an easy to follow visual program language. At this point the children were really excited, so we took their suggestions on what color we should make BB-8 and what actions we should have him do. We explained 2 major programing concepts, loops and if…else statements, during this time. Many of the children had already been using Scratch to complete coding exercises through the Code.org website, so they were somewhat familiar with some of the concepts we demonstrated.
We then spoke about the origins of coding. We showed a picture of Ada Lovelace and explained that the first programmer was a woman. When we first showed her picture we asked if anyone in the group knew who she was. The first guess was Princess Leia (which made me really happy inside) but the second guess was correct (way to go teachers!). To give the students someone they could really relate to, we mentioned Ethan Duggan, who crafted his first iPhone app when he was 11 – the same age as a lot of children we were speaking to. We explained that coding really is a key that can unlock many doors, including solving real world problems or just having fun.
Excitement filled the room as we transitioned to a slide reading, “Who likes Minecraft?” We asked the students if any of them had ever used a Minecraft mod, and a few hands were raised. We explained that today we were going to show them the code behind a simple Minecraft mod. We had all the code written for a mod that creates a TNT-like block that explodes when you hit it with fire, but with a tiny blast radius. It was named wimpyTNT for that reason. I showed the students the part of the code where the force of the explosion was set to 0.5. We compiled the code, booted up Minecraft, and showed them the new custom block (which we added the Daxko logo as the texture). We placed the block, hit it with flint and steel, and saw a small 4×4 block explosion. We all agreed that that was one wimpy explosion. We then asked the kids how we could make this better, and someone suggested making the explosion bigger. We went back to the code and decided as a group we should change the force of the explosion to 100. All the children were “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” at this point. We compiled the code, booted up Minecraft, found a clear space, and asked the kids what would happen. The room was full of energy when we placed the wimpyTNT block (which wasn’t so wimpy anymore), ignited it with flint and steel… and KABOOOOOM!!!! A giant hole was left in the game, resulting in some really excited children. We then proceeded to add 7-8 wimpyTNT blocks all together and ignited them, triggering the biggest in-game explosion yet. The room erupted with cheers and clapping as we were blasted into the air. Matt and I ended the session by taking questions and giving the kids some resources where they could start having fun with code, specifically MCreator.
This was definitely the highlight of my month. I really enjoy having the flexibility in my job to inspire the next generation, and I encourage anyone who wants to give back and share technical knowledge to participate in Hour of Code.
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