Pioneer Works joined with Google’s Made with Code this year to create a new program in Brooklyn called Art x Code. Art x Code was a week-long program in which eight high school girls will worked with educators and technologists to learn the basics of coding, game design, and virtual reality. At the end of the week the students would have designed and created unique games by and for teen girls that lets them tell their story while learning that coding is fun and empowering.
This workshop challenged the normal classroom experience by not only talking at the girls and giving them information, but by first actually allowing them to play the games that can easily be translated into a coded version. By actually have played the games in real life, it would be easier for them to figure out how it can be transformed into a real-life coded game.
David Sheinkopf who is currently the Technology Integrator and Co-Director of Education at Pioneer Works, had to go out and find the best teachers for the job. So he sought out Cassie Tarakajian, Ziv Schneider, and myself for this project. All three of us including David brought something new, dynamic, and unique to the team. David in the past has taught for 10 years and makes amazing tech based art. Cassie is an artist, and software developer, Ziv is a multi-media artist and designer from Israel. Both Cassie and Ziv also do really amazing work with the virtual reality software Unity. I was chosen because of my coding background and I recently taught middle school youth at Red Hook Initiative.
Once the team was assembled it was time to get to work and start figuring out what we were going to do for the week. We all met once a week to discuss details and ideas of what we thought was going to be fun and interesting for the girls. You can see below what we came up with:
Monday - Introduction to game design by first talking about what makes up the fundamentals of a game, whether in the physical world or digital. We then played a race game in the main gallery space of Pioneer Works with zorbs (inflatable plastic balls) where the players were blindfolded in the zorbs and their partners, who can see, had to guide them to the finish line. The students then learned some basic coding skills using the Scratch programming language. The girls were then asked to create a video game that was the same as the race game they had just played blindfolded in the zorbs, called the button masher race.
Tuesday - The next game the girls played was a maze game. We had them break into teams and each team designed a life-sized maze that had to be navigated by a blindfolded player who was also wearing a zorb while avoiding certain obstacles like teachers playing as AI’s. They then went on to code their own maze games in Scratch, learning more about X,Y coordinates, AI’s, rotation, etc.
Wednesday - We then introduced a guest teacher Caitlin Kelleher, who is the developer of Looking Glass, a programming environment that teaches the basics of coding 3D animations.
Thursday - The final game the girls played was a drop-and-catch game where dice and red balls, were dropped from a balcony in the Pioneer Works garden down to a girl who had to catch the dice in her box all while avoiding getting hit by or catching the red balls. After playing this game, the girls went on to design the digital version in Scratch, coding more AI’s and animation. In the afternoon, the students were introduced to Unity, a VR editor used by professional video game designers to create games in virtual reality. We split up the girls into groups of four where some worked with Unity and others continued their Scratch game design. Every girl had a chance to try Unity.
Friday - We continued with the groups rotating and finalizing projects so that we can then present them during the graduation at the end of the day. Once all was finalized parents and friends were able to come up and listen to the girls talk about the work they did and then showed demonstrations of their games. Everyone was then able to walk around see the games made in Unity and also the art work all the girls made with Tilt Brush.
As the last day came to an end, I realized how much I loved teaching. Seeing their faces as they made something they created work, and seeing their final project come to life, and just how genuinely happy each of them were knowing that they could do something they thought they wouldn't be able to do, was such a great feeling. I saw so much of myself in each of them. It was like having flashbacks to when I was their age. They were all a pleasure to teach and so creative in so many ways it was mind blowing. I believe we achieved our goal for the program and I can't wait to do it again. Take some time to watch a short video of the program.