Kids code the darndest things

December 20, 2017

Written by Braeden Young and Sebastian Malysa

In May 2017, the Workiva office in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, was contacted by the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC) with an exciting opportunity. SSMIC was looking for local experts to help out with a programming summer camp hosted at Algoma University. Workiva engineers Anthony Pagnotta, Braeden Young, and Sebastian Malysa volunteered their time and talents for two days of Kids Code Summer Camp.

A camp for aspiring coders

SSMIC had a week of lesson plans prepared for Kids Code Summer Camp, much of which required very little instruction. Most of the activities consisted of snippets taken from "Hour of Code," a global movement that provides a brief but helpful introduction to coding for students of all ages.

The Kids Code Summer Camp had 20 participants, with ages ranging between 9 and 13. Braeden taught a full day on embedded programming, Sebastian taught a full day on mobile development through App Inventor, and Anthony provided some much needed support for both days. Campers also enjoyed days dedicated to a variety of other topics, including web development, basic computer science, and robotics.

Day one: embedded programming

Capitalizing on a growing interest in hobbyist electronics, an entire day was focused on embedded programming and the open source project, Arduino.

Arduino was chosen due to its widespread adoption and overall ease of working with the ATMEGA line of microcontrollers. Furthermore, Arduino allowed us to use "mBlock," an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) based on the graphical programming language "Scratch 2.0." To make the project even more approachable, prototype boards with a handful of LEDs were preassembled, so campers could focus on programming rather than having to make their own circuits.

Campers were able to iterate with the lights, create their own patterns, and indicate distances using a provided ultrasonic module.

Day two: mobile development

For mobile development day, campers were tasked with making a sound board and a "Magic 8-Ball" app for Android devices using App Inventor. App Inventor was selected due to its intuitive design and code block system that makes building apps extremely user friendly, much like putting together LEGO bricks.

Campers learned about decision-making logic, lists, loops, and event handling. More importantly, they got to experience success as their programs came to life. Campers lit up with enthusiasm when their soundboards worked as expected, and the room quickly filled with questions for their "Magic 8-Ball" apps.

We also demonstrated a few more advanced apps and tasked campers with solving bugs and explaining the code. Campers were highly engaged and remarkably insightful. Watching as they experienced their aha moments and came to understand how these apps worked was incredibly rewarding.

Inspiring the next generation of programmers

The SSMIC Kids Code Summer Camp was a great opportunity for Workiva to give back to the community. It was all about sparking kids' interest in programming through demonstration and hands-on experimentation. It was a very satisfying and memorable experience.

Who knows? Perhaps the next class of Workiva engineers will point to their time at the SSMIC Kids Code Summer Camp as their inspiration.

 

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