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Perspectives from the classroom – one class’ Coding Quest journey

Thirty students sit quietly, staring at me in disbelief. I’ve just informed them that we’re going to spend the next 6 weeks designing and building video games.
“Real video games?” asks one of the students, skeptically.
“Yes,” I answer. “Ones that other people can play!” Excited looks shoot between the students and I know I have them hooked. We are about to begin Coding Quest, a program created by The Learning Partnership. Coding Quest is designed to engage students in curriculum through the medium of video games while also introducing them to design thinking, computational thinking and coding. And the best part? It’s fun and who doesn’t want to have fun while learning?
Students begin their Coding Quest by exploring the world of Scratch, an online, block-based coding platform developed at MIT. Scratch achieves the seemingly impossible, by providing a simple enough platform at which beginning coders can be successful, but a complex enough platform that experienced coders can be challenged. As a teacher, you don’t need to have experience coding, as there are tutorials and lessons available.

After you and your students have been introduced to Scratch, Coding Quest leads you through lessons on game design and planning. Everything is laid out for you and it’s been my experience that time spent on these lessons is time well spent! Students decide who the characters in their game will be, what kind of game they will build (a platform game, a scrolling background game, a maze game - the kids will have lots of ideas!) and how the game will showcase what they are learning in class. How closely your students’ games tie in with what they’re learning in class is up to you. I’ve seen teachers give students a broad topic, such as “space” or “survival,” and I’ve also seen classes where the teacher had all groups working on games designed around a novel the class read. Regardless of what learning you want your students to showcase, this planning stage is important.
Once the planning is done, the game building begins! Students’ plans will very quickly outstrip most teachers’ abilities to help! “How do I make my character score points when they catch the fish?” “How can I make my character earn lives when they level up?” Luckily, there are tons of Scratch tutorials online and every class I’ve worked with has at least one or two keeners who are already familiar with Scratch and all too willing to help. This is truly your chance to become the “guide on the side” - learning with, and from, your students!
As a wrap-up activity, the best games from each school in participating districts get invited to a Coding Arcade. It’s sort of like a Science Fair, where kids get to show off their games and let other people play them. We run ours at the local public library - it’s a great showcase for all the hard work!

So, at this point you, as an already very busy teacher, are probably thinking… “I don’t know how to code, I don’t play video games and I’m busy enough already - why should I throw one more thing into my classroom?” I get it. I hear you.
The problem solving, resilience and interpersonal skills students develop as they are designing and building their game are invaluable, real-world skills.
But many people, myself included, see computational thinking and coding as life skills; part of the digital literacy toolkit our children will need as technology becomes even more ubiquitous in our world.
But it’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s engaging. And we all know that when kids are engaged, they’re learning. And that has to be a good thing, right?
Coding Quest plus video games plus excited kids plus curriculum equals the perfect combination. Give it a try!
Cari Wilson is the Elementary Technology and Innovation Lead Teacher in West Vancouver, BC. With over 20 years of classroom experience, Cari enjoys finding new and engaging ways to bring technology into the classroom.

Coding Quest is Canada’s largest classroom-based coding program challenging students in Grades 4 to 6 to build their own computer game in the classroom.​ Coding Quest is available at no cost to schools thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada, Capital One, Salesforce.org and Electronic Arts.