Coding Competition for UK Kids – have I got it right?

“Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.” Nolan Bushnell

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I wish to share with you some of my plans for a national competition to help children in the UK have an experience of computer programming. I accept that this is just one small aspect of the discipline of computational thinking – but we have to start somewhere!

Here is my proposal. I have already had assurances that the competition is being supported by people within the UK games, software and entertainment industry – see my previous blog.

A competition aimed at UK children aged 7 – 14 years old. There should as few barriers as possible for children to access the competition materials.

Although the competition could be easily used within a school lesson, a lunchtime or after school club, there are many othr environments in which it could be run, eg. a junior barcamp activity, a holiday club, a scout/guide activity.

I would recommend that geek parents, or geek governors offer to support their local school in running this competition. It is designed to engage as many as possible. It could be used at home by families. STEM ambassadors could introduce it to their local school.

The competition materials will include a short tutorial available as a PDF, and in a web-browser, with written instructions and images showing screen shots where appropriate. There will also be a short video tutorial as well available online through a child safe website.

Children’s games are to be created using Scratch, an open-source, cross-platform visual programming environment.

Children will submit two files, the actual game they have created and a short video no longer than 3 minutes where they pitch their game. In the video they need to present their game and explain how they investigated the problem, researched and investigated, the ideas they had, the selection process, the process of making the game.

There will be about 4 different age categories in the range 7yrs to 14yrs. Prizes will be awarded to  the best in each category. The prizes will be family friendly and age appropriate, but should be relative to the context of the competition. They could include – a VIP visit to a games studio or film studios, some technology to help and support the winners to develop their interest in technology.

The exact details of the actual competition are not being revealed until the launch to ensure fairness. However, all the games entered will feature a common core that the children adapt to suit their chosen design. The game will be based on the ‘pong’ game – and that’s all I can say for now. Pong is credited as the game that launched the video games industry 40 years ago, Nolan Bushnell (the man quoted above and below) was the founder of Atari.

Nolan Bushnell has agreed to record a short video for the launch of the competition. What suggestions do you have for his message to the children of today?

The competition is designed to ignite a passion for programming in children. I really want this to be an engaging, rewarding, informative and educational experience for all involved in the competition. If you think I am making any errors or have missed anything out, please let me know.

You can also help support this initiative by encouraging others to sign up. If you have any thoughts/suggestions please comment below on the blog. Alternatively you could email me, my address is my first name alan, in front of at odonohoe.org.uk or ring me 07791 126056.

To be the first to find out about the competition, register here.

“The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”

Nolan Bushnell

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. As you asked for comments…

    It’s a very similar in format to the animation/codebreaker competition being run by Machester university. I do like the idea of the competition but, as an initial response, I’m unsure if pong provides enough scope for the older pupils.

    As a second lesson with Scratch I have had year 7s build a pong game and after about 2 hours work a number had the basic game, score board and various different power ups working all working (although not very polished I must admit). What more is there to add? It could mean a lot of very similar entries but then that might just be my lack of imagination – something most of our pupils aren’t short of! Also, to be fair, you have stated that it will be based on pong so you might have addressed this issue already.

    The only other point that occurred to me is I think the video submitted with the entry should probably just focus on the features of the game. You listed a number of different aspects you wanted them to cover and I can see the educational value in them but are you going to base your judging on how well they explain their methodology? If not I think it is better to let them focus on showcasing what they have made rather than how they made it.

    While that sounds negative they are both relatively minor points and, as I said earlier, I do think the competition is a great idea. I will be definitely be encouraging some pupils to enter when the final detail are published. I would also be more than willing to lend a hand if necessary.

    Oh as a final point I forgot to mention earlier that I have been planning to hold a competition in my school for year 9 – 11 to produce a space invaders game in Greenfoot – wasn’t planning anything as grand as your competition but would you be interested?

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  2. A great idea.

    My thoughts are that it needs adequate promotion and time to allow for widespread participation.

    Can my company provide one of the prizes? What would be good?

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  3. Anne says:

    I like the idea of a gaming competition and ages 7 to 14 sounds good too. It really needs to be an extra-curriculum session – like you suggest lunch time or perhaps after-school, and it will probably fall to teachers supporting it. (I wouldn’t have a problem with that). If the competition is geared around the pong game, I think extra time should be built into the competition for keen students to learn the pong skills beforehand. A lot of kids now have Wii, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo as their gaming consoles. I think these should be mentioned in the video for the launch so that students can relate to it more. I think the video presentation that you expect the kids to produce to accompany their two files, is a little ambitious. Perhaps they could just discuss their game and explain briefly how they came up with their idea. I would be keen to promote it at school and perhaps introduce it at our feeder primaries too. I look forward to finding out more about it.

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  4. All seems fine apart from the issue of Pong as already been commented on. Will this really stretch students? Perhaps you have some take on it I don’t know about. I would think it perhaps should be more open-ended as to type of game. Also, I was wondering if in the video the students should be asked to explain their code e.g. variables, broadcast and how the elements come together. This will show understanding of some of the key concepts

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    1. teknoteacher says:

      Thanks for the comments re the limitations of the Pong theme. Since it is the basis for a competition, I dont want to give too much away at this stage, suffice to say that it will allow children’s imagination to transform a 40 year old game concept into something for the modern age.

      Yes – many comments that the video would be better as an explanation of how the game works and was devised would be better.

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