- Associated Press - Sunday, January 21, 2018

IRVING, Texas (AP) - Hemant Pacha hopes to be a doctor and a part-time video game designer when he’s older. But until then, the 11-year-old is keeping busy by learning how to code his own mobile video games.

The Dallas Morning News reports his most recent creation has the player move a small yellow dot away from several black dots on a white backdrop, which the sixth-grader said was inspired by Pac-Man.

“My parents work with computers, so I thought it would be cool to program my own game and start what I would be doing later in life,” Hemant said. “It would be a fun experience.”

Hemant is one of nearly 20 Barbara Bush Middle School students who participate in the school’s Afterschool Coding Clubs for School Students (ACCESS) program. It was created by the University of Texas at Dallas Department of Computer Science and Technology as a way to introduce elementary and middle school students to the basics of computer programming.

UT-Dallas assigns about 75 of its computer science students per semester to lead the clubs at 50 elementary and middle school across North Texas, including Barbara Bush in Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District.

Deyonna Davis, a career and technology teacher at Barbara Bush and sponsor of the coding clubs, said she’s seen a range of students join the clubs - from those who have the latest technology to some who may not even have internet access at home.

She said the coding clubs expose the children to new technology and helps bridge that gap.

“Everyone gets something out of this,” Davis said. “Students who don’t have exposure to computers can be around computers while learning the basics, and those who do have that background knowledge can elevate the knowledge they already have.”

Jey Veerasamy, UT-Dallas professor and director of its Center for Computer Science Education & Outreach, said the clubs last 10 weeks and cost about $20 per semester. But a recent corporate grant of $50,000 helped pick up the costs at certain schools - like Barbara Bush Middle - where many of the students live in poverty.

The coding clubs cater to students from all backgrounds, from beginners to more advanced coders, and helps them learn to try new things.

“The one thing about coding is that we cannot be afraid to make mistakes, because that’s the only way to learn,” Veerasamy said. “We encourage students to try things out, and if they don’t like what they see, then they change it. It’s a very human experience.”

Mikey Shands said he hopes the skills he gained in his coding club last fall will help him become a cartoon illustrator one day. He said he wants to design cartoons on his computer similar to those on his favorite show, Dragon Ball Z.

With the help of the UT-Dallas students, the 11-year-old was able to code a Microsoft Paint-like mobile app that he can use to draw images with his fingertips. He said he also came up with new settings for the app during the coding process.

“I created this app because it was one of the ones that they guided us on, but I added my own twists to it,” Mikey said. “I added an eraser so you don’t have to reset your whole drawing.”

But the middle school youngsters aren’t the only ones who learn something new from the coding clubs. Sathya Pooja Remireddy, a UT-Dallas graduate student who led her first coding club at Barbara Bush in the fall, said the program helped reassure her of her ability to teach.

She said she will continue working with the coding clubs this spring.

“I wasn’t sure about it for the first two classes, but as time went on, it became easier,” said Remireddy, 27. “I realized that even I can teach. That’s a possibility now.”


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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