In the spring of 2022, I was running a computer club for a few weeks at the Chatham School of Science and Engineering. The school was just starting some clubs, and a few kids signed up for this computer club, but most were not very enthusiastic, despite my efforts.
However, two kids, Jack and Brandon, were very vocal about what they liked and did not like about computer game development. When I asked them more questions, they started to show their expertise. After a bit more prodding, they showed me the game that they built. It was a multiplayer platformer, with a level editor, and a community of users in the school and beyond. Wow! All of those things are very difficult.
Then, they explained that they built the whole thing on their locked-down school Chromebooks by developing the code and running in free accounts on Replit.com. This is an integrated development environment where you can program in a browser window and execute the code remotely, and it also provides multiplayer tools.
Using this novel setup, they were able to get other kids to play their game, provide feedback, and develop new levels and art for their game. Amazing! Jack and Brandon were far beyond any computer game development instruction I could give them.
I tried to get Jack and Brandon to submit their application for the Congressional App Challenge without success. They didn’t see the point. This bothered me for a week until I sent a note to their councelor, Melissa with all the information about the Challenge: how to enter, what was required, what the schedule was, and copied the Principal, asking them to please send this information on to the parents of Jack and Brandon. The next meeting they said that they were going to enter.
That was the end of the school year last year. Jack and Brandon were declared the winners of the NC Congressional App challenge in the fall, beating out 9000 students who submitted 2707 apps. In April 2023 they were invited to go to the House of Code meeting on Capitol Hill to show off their application. The Chatham News and Record just wrote a story and read more (possible paywall).
You can play Jack and Brandon’s app, Platformerz, for free.
Most Chatham County students that I have encountered are simply not aware of technical occupations. They need to be encouraged to explore more good-paying occupations, such as those in software development. Jack and Brandon learned real-world skills such as project management, planning, customer feedback, resource optimization, and digital skills, of course. One of the strategies built into the Chatham Digital Inclusion Plan (coming soon) is to have county-wide challenges like this for both kids and adults.
If you are interested in helping with such efforts, please let us at Innovate Chatham know.
If you want to help individual kids enter the Congressional App Challenge, I would be glad to help you.