This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Friday is the final day of Computer Science Education Week – where educators nationwide work to spark students’ interest in what it takes to create the digital world around us.
Some students in Philadelphia have risen to the occasion, turning their classroom into a DIY arcade.
At the Penn Alexander School, video games are actually part of the curriculum — not playing them, but creating them.
"Making to learn is really about articulating these ideas and then enacting them," said Veena Vasudevan, a doctoral student at Penn’s Graduate School of Education.
Vasudevan has been helping kids at Penn Alexander – the university’s partner school – learn the basics of coding with a programming tool called Scratch.
"When they have to create something in Scratch, for example, they say something like, ‘I want my character to move.’ Well, what does movement actually look like? So they actually have to think through the problem," she said. "They have to think what they want to happen, and then they have to figure out how they want it to happen."
Scratch allows kids to program without having to type long, convoluted commands. Its drag-and-drop functionality helps them avoid the common gripe of rookie programmers: typos.
Seventh grader Moritz Endriss has been coding a game where a polar bear flies around in a jet pack as his jacket changes colors at a frenetic pace. He’s still working out a code for what happens if the polar bear bumps into a Christmas tree, but he has a plan.