Another Successful Summer in the Books

It’s hard to believe that we are reaching the conclusion of another busy summer at DHF. This summer we had 3 cycles of Maker Camp for Mid-High students and Elementary students and 3 cycles of Member camps. These camps ran concurrently with our YouthWorks program and many of the youth involved in YouthWorks helped facilitate programming for the camps. The summer concluded with DHF’s inaugural youth hackathon, Harbor Hacks.

makercamp-girls-working

This summer we unveiled two new programming courses: Programming Minecraft with Python and Creative Programming with JavaScript. Programming Minecraft offered youth a chance to hack the Minecraft environment using code and Creative Programming facilitated youth creation of an online Javascript sketchbook using the p5 web editor. Both programming languages are highly desirable in the workplace and require great attention to detail. Nevertheless, our staff were very impressed by the coding projects the youth in these courses were able to craft. Intro to 3D Printing, Arduino, and VectorFab courses were also offered to Mid-High youth. Youth created puppets and marionettes as their capstone projects for the Intro to 3D Printing course, servo greeters in the Arduino course, and mazes in the VectorFab course. Our Mini Makers explored simple machines by creating automatas and learned about gravity, the rotation of the earth, and friction while building their own paint pendulums.

makercamp-prototyping-in-action

minimakers-legos

This summer’s YouthWorks cohort was the largest DHF has seen with 20 youth working as Project Planners, Space Specialists, Cultivation Specialists, Program Assistants in the MegaLab and NanoLab, 3D Assistants, and Documentation Assistants. Their marks can be seen around the space through projects such as the lasercut Bike Parking and Office signs, the pea planter in the courtyard, and the self-watering planters growing squash in the space beside DHF. Program Assistants also helped staff come up with projects for courses such as a JavaScript programmed loading screen and a Python programmed timer displayed on the Minecraft playing screen that counts up to 5 minutes. Said one youth employee, “my favorite part about being at DHF this summer was being able to work with the people around me.”

minimaker-shape-hunt

We wrapped up the summer with the Harbor Hacks youth hackathon proposed by DHF member, Bella Palumbi. The hackathon was attended by 40 youth, 14 of which were non-regular program participants. The event was a perfect cap to the summer with the productivity of the past three months channeled into 3 days of innovative brainstorming, hacking, and presentation.

Interactive Game Insight: Football Physics

The best way to answer the question “What is an interactive gaming experience?” is to look at a project! This is a game created by one of our youth in our Interactive Game Design Member course, and his game is a perfect expression of the skills covered in the Interactive Games for Educators workshop.

We are offering this workshop because of the powerful impact that teaching game design can have in the classroom. Youth will develop the foundations of computer programming through a medium that is fun and accessible for them while creating a product that they’ll have complete ownership over. By integrating game design into the classroom, educators are able to engage youth to learn new skills through an exciting format: the video game. An added bonus is that through the creation process, youth will shift from being consumers of games to producers of exciting content!

The first aspect of the project we’re going to look at are the sprites. All of the characters, backgrounds, and objects were created by the youth for this project.

IGforED Sprites Example

He decided to make a sports game that tests his knowledge of physics, as he had to determine how to program the arcs and physics of passing a football from the player character to the non-player characters.

The “brain” of this project was created using Scratch, a free web-based visual game engine developed by the MIT Media Lab. These projects help build planning skills for youth, as they need to determine what behavior and mechanics they have to develop in order to bring their vision to life. Once this crucial phase is complete, youth then use Scratch for their coding. The visual nature of Scratch provides an accessible experience for youth and enables them to develop and explore the fundamentals of programming in a fun, engaging way. Here is a screenshot of some of the code used in this featured project:

IGforED Scratch Example

The blocks in Scratch are chunks of code that can be manipulated and combined logically into scripts which form the basis of the game’s function and programming. Scratch blocks are broken into categories that are representative of core programming concepts, such as Events, Control, and Operators. Scratchers can then manipulate these blocks to form chunks of code that build into their game mechanics. Scratch still requires an understanding of programmatic thinking, especially variable use and conditional logic (if->then statements).

The next step is to integrate physical interactivity into the project! Once the core of the game is created in Scratch, the Makey Makey (another invention from the MIT Media Lab) is added to act as a gateway between conductive objects and the computer. The integration of these components is typically done as a game controller, but youth have lots of freedom to build this however they envision. This is a step that can be built into the design process and planning phase of the project. For this particular project, the youth designer decided to create a physical controller that matched the theme of his game. As the game is a football game that tests his knowledge of physics, he decided that the controller should also fit this theme and made a throwable football controller!

IGforED MakeyMakey 1

The controller’s main structure is crafted from aluminum foil, a conductive material. He also had to make a landing pad for the football so that it would complete the circuit once the “pass” is complete. This physical integration is a perfect opportunity for youth to creatively test their problem solving and design skills, as there are occasionally quirks and challenges that arise when working with physical components. However, since the youth have ownership over their projects there often is a higher degree of perseverance and determination to stick with their interactive game despite any difficulties.

One of the strengths of integrating an interactive gaming experience into the classroom is that it provides youth with a creative platform for designing unique products that combine problem solving, iteration, and critical thinking.

We wanted to develop a workshop for educators to build their capacity in the skills utilized in creating interactive gaming experiences with youth.

Educators that attend the Interactive Games for Educators workshop will leave with an Interactive Games Starter Kit as well as access to additional “Going Further” lessons and resources that build on the base skills covered in the workshop. Now is a fantastic time to integrate Game Design into the classroom as it is a industry that is rising in popularity with several possible career paths and deep educational potential.

Learn more or register for this workshop today!

 

 

New Workshop: Interactive Games for Educators

Digital Harbor Foundation is offering an exciting new workshop, Interactive Games for Educators. Interactive Game Design is a rapidly developing field that exists in the intersection of physical components and computer programming, where designers shape and construct new methods of gaming. In this workshop, educators will learn how to program basic game mechanics that integrate physical components.

We are offering this workshop because of the powerful impact that teaching game design can have in the classroom. Game design is an engaging multidisciplinary platform for youth and is a field with several possible career pathways. Youth will develop the foundations of computer programming in a medium that is fun and accessible for them.

MiniMakersScratch

Educators attending the workshop will learn how to use Scratch, a free web-based visual game engine developed by the MIT Media Lab as well as the Makey Makey, another invention from the MIT Media Lab. The Makey Makey enables youth to bring physical interactivity to their games by acting as a gateway between conductive objects and the computer. Attending educators will develop the confidence to be able to help youth unleash their creative potential in a medium that actively incorporates problem solving, critical thinking, iteration, and the design process.

Learn more or register for this workshop

One of the strengths of Scratch is that it is a highly accessible platform for teaching youth the core concepts necessary to embark on a computer programming pathway. Additionally, since Game Design is a field that incorporates several skill sets such as business, art, programming, and storytelling, incorporating Game Design into the classroom exposes youth to fields that they may not even have considered exploring. For example, a youth who may not demonstrate interest in Language Arts may excel at storytelling in a game narrative.

MiniMakersScratch1

One of the ultimate reasons for integrating these elements into the classroom is to create more future coders. The programming principles and mechanics that this workshop covers can be the first step for educators interested in setting their youth for a future programming pathway.

MiniMakersScratch2

Educators will leave with an Interactive Games Starter Kit as well as access to additional “Going Further” lessons and resources that build on the base skills covered in the workshop. Now is a fantastic time to integrate Game Design into the classroom as it is a medium that is rising in popularity with several possible career paths and deep educational potential.

MegaLabPacMan

Learn more or register for this workshop today!

Customize Your Makey Makey

If you are anything like me, you love your Makey Makey. I am just constantly finding new things to do with them and exploring what new conductive element I can use as a trigger. The youth at DHF are also super creative when it comes to Makey Makey’s.

One of our youth, Sierra, came up with the idea to turn an abandoned piano that was left in our space when we moved in into a digital jukebox, a modern take on the classic diner staple. Her idea was to use the piano keys as mechanical switches that would activate the Makey Makey and send the song selection to a raspberry pi running the jukebox interface. One obstacle she ran into was that the Makey Makey only transmits arrow keys, space bar, and W,A,S,D,F,G by default.

Because the Makey Makey source code is open source, we can modify our Makey Makey to generate any key strokes we need (Hooray for open source!). In our case, we needed the Makey Makey to generate the numbers 0-9.

One of my favorite tools for programming Arduino compatible devices (like the Makey Makey) is Codebender.cc. It’s a Google Chrome extension that runs in your browser so there is very little software you need to install on the local computer. Just the extension and some drivers.

Head over to Adafruit’s blog to learn more about Codebender and once you’ve signed up for a free account, just clone my code for the Makey Makey: https://codebender.cc/sketch:109797

You can change your mappings by editing the settings.h file. Note: You can only assign one key press to each input of the Makey Makey. This means you couldn’t do something fancy like “CTRL+P” 🙁

While you are at it, put some pants on your Makey Makey.

And one more thing, Codebender now works on Google Chromebooks!