It took two middle schoolers to come up with a game that could teach kids to code — developing an approach that could revolutionize the way technology is taught in schools.
It’s called GenerationCode.
Seabury Middle School sixth graders Fiona Brennan and Semira Lacet-Brown and their team of nine professional adults took top honors at Startup Weekend at University of Washington last weekend.
Lacet-Brown has been learning to code for two years and she’s been having a hard time finding a tool that suits her level of skills, noting that there aren’t any coding games for middle schoolers.
The girls took the top prize at Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event where entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, and developers all come together to pitch their ideas for businesses, form teams and build products. Each team presents their project to judges at the end of the event.
As Lacet-Brown was interested in coding and Brennan was interested in design, they sat down together and came up with a computer game that teaches young kids how to code. The game has levels and obstacles. Professor Gram, a character in the game, will show up occasionally to explain and teach a lesson that relates to programming. When the gamer comes across a “Code Monster,” they will have to apply what they have learned to defeat the monster and complete the level.
The game is targeted to 9- to 12-year-olds. The girls plan to partner with Code.org, a non-profit organization that works to bring computer science to K-12 schools in the U.S.
“This is our generation,” Brennan said.
“It’s overall pretty awesome. … Kids are just as awesome as adults,” Lacet-Brown added.
Not only did they lead their team to a win against 10 professional teams, prior to the Startup Weekend, Brennan and Lacet-Brown had already formed a company with six other sixth graders called Giggy Games, Inc. The company aims to create fun games for middle school and high school kids. Even though the company has not released a product yet, the girls are ready to take what they have learned back to the team to start creating games.
“What we really have to do is to go set a deadline,” said Brennan.
“Their determination and vision are so inspiring,” said Nathan Turner, the business developer of the team and a professional graphic designer. “They were providing input at every step of the designing and planning processes, and it was great to have their excitement and direction.”
Fernmarie Brady, a business developer on the team and a program manager at Microsoft, agreed.
“These young entrepreneurs had a goal when they pitched on Friday, and I was very impressed by their laser focus and determination throughout the weekend,” she said. “They worked really hard, were very coachable, and were fun to work with.”
As the winner of Startup Weekend, the team will get mentoring from Synapse Product Development and the girls won a scholarship to attend a CodeFellows bootcamp where they will have the opportunity to learn more about coding.
The team also plans to continue working together and create a final product.
“My goal for the project would be to refine a small working game demo,” said Turner, “to get a good, playable example out for use in gauging the excitement of our target audience: the kids.”
Reporter Rebecca Yeung is a student participating in The University of Washington’s News Lab program.