Marquette Technology Institute’s Youth Coding Camps: Fun, creative problem solving for kiddos

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Robots race around a racetrack in the middle of a city complete with a pizza parlor whose slogan is “Gary’s Pizza — It’s pretty good.” A robot explores the moon, avoiding craters along the way. A robot successfully completes an obstacle course. A robot tells your fortune when you ask it any question.

This is the future.

And not because it involves robots. It’s the future because these projects were dreamed up and implemented by teams of fifth and sixth grade students as creative solutions to problems presented to them, applying what they learned in a week-long computer programming camp at Codefi in downtown Cape Girardeau.

The future is looking pretty bright.

Two sessions of the Youth Coding Camp for fifth and sixth graders took place at the Marquette Tech District during July, with two sessions of the camp for third and fourth graders taking place in June. The Marquette Tech District also sponsored a cost-free coding camp for the Central Middle School Tiger Lilies and the Honorable Young Men’s Club.

At the camps — which are in their second year — students are introduced to coding through programming robots called Evos, using an app called Ozoblockly. Campers learn how to program, load and calibrate these robots to move forwards, backwards and to the left and right. They then complete challenges that apply this knowledge in creative ways, such as programming the bots to race around a curved line and recreating a movie with the bots.

After completing these challenges, teams of campers get to create their own original projects. The camp culminates in a demo session in which the teams present these projects to family, friends and judges, for the chance to move on to present at the Marquette TechFest on August 10. The Southeast Missouri community is invited to come see this showcase in action between 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Isle Casino Event Center.

“It’s a lot of trial and error and having to go back to recode it and try it again,” teacher Nikki Crosnoe says. “The kids just soak it up. It’s great for problem-solving. And just learning perseverance and patience.”

“And teamwork,” teacher Olivia Carter adds.

The need for people with computer programming skills is great. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Projections Central, the overall average job growth rate for all occupations in the Delta region — the region encompassing Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — is projected at seven percent from 2014-2024, while job growth rate for the region in the areas of computer and information technology is projected at 12.43 percent.

This means 3,367,960 developers will be needed. Introducing computer programming and coding to elementary and middle school students gives these people the resources to pursue this field as they proceed into high school, college and the workforce, filling the need for our region to continue progressing forward.

“We wanted to bring youth coding education and make it available and accessible to all the kids in Cape Girardeau,” says Stacy Dohogne Lane, Codefi community director. “We really want them to dig a little bit into code, learn about what coding and programming is like and build confidence and resilience. We want them to learn that maybe just because you don’t think you’re good at math or science, that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed at this; you’re learning problem-solving and teamwork and creativity and how to think systematically. Those are widely applicable skills across any academic discipline. Watching the kids learn so many completely new things and gain confidence throughout the week has been amazing.”

Rachel Hudson’s son Masyn Hanners participated in the youth coding camp last year, and again this year. She says before attending last summer’s camp, Hanners hadn’t found an interest he wanted to pursue.

That changed when he discovered coding.

“We’d tried every sport there is around here to try, then we went last year to the coding camp. For the whole year afterwards, he still used the resources they gave him. He loves it,” Hudson says. “He knows he wants to be a video game app designer when he grows up now and he’s nine years old, so — he’s ready.”

At the demo, the campers are enthusiastic and confident when discussing their projects with family, friends and judges. Nearly unanimously, they cite creating their own projects as their favorite part of the camp.

Why do they like it?

“It’s fun,” teammates Advaita Soma and Regan Seay agree.

Jordan Posey is one member of the three-person team — along with Dolan Chiles and Hanners — who call themselves “The Coding Bois.” His team programmed two robots to have a dance-off, and then created a dance floor and DJ station complete with rotating Lego turntable where the robots could face off. Their project is one of two finalists from the camp that will present at the Marquette Tech Fest in August.

Posey echoes Soma’s and Seay’s sentiments when asked his favorite element of his week at camp.

“Everything,” he says. “I love everything about going to camp.”

More information about Marquette Tech Institute’s (MTi’s) coding education initiative is available at