Kid coders show off projects at expo

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Peter Rudnicki, right, performs a coding magic trick, with audience assistant Patrick Heckel, left, during the Copper Country Coders expo at Michigan Technological University Saturday.

HOUGHTON — Groups of about 40 Copper Country students displayed the fruits of a school year’s worth of tinkering at the Copper Country Coders’ inaugural expo Saturday.

The students, who range from sixth to 12th grades, are mentored in coding projects by eight mentors from Michigan Technological University.

They meet every Saturday for two hours, divided into groups working on everything from making web pages to designing games.

“We try to do middle school together, high school together, then their interests all kind of fit together,” said Tech mentor Keith Atkinson.

The program began nine years ago. This was the first year for the expo, where parents and the public could come see what the children have been doing.

The expo was also a way to interest tech freshmen and sophomores to ensure the club can maintain the level of mentorship, Atkinson said.

Jack Mueller of Houghton, who is in his second year in the program, designed a “dark maze,” in which the player had to make their way around a maze in which only a small section at a time was visible.

“It started out as a normal maze game, but then we had to add an entire other program over it just to make it dark,” he said.

It’s like making artwork or a video, but better, Mueller said.

“It’s fun to do, and it’s fun to have a thing you made,” he said.

Edward Liu of Houghton was part of a team that created a game mixing UFOs, sharks and blueberries. His mother said he’s excited every Saturday. He described his favorite part as “typing.”

In mock indignation, Atkinson reminded Liu he had liked the organ count — part of coming up with the properties of the aliens.

“You had fun coming up with those!” he said.

“Yeah, but that was typing,” Liu replied.

It’s a good social environment for students, many of whom are home-schooled, Atkinson said. And it also gives them a chance to get started in programming.

“I had no experience before starting college, and here there’s such a variety of projects they get to look into,” he said.

It’s meaningful for the Tech students too. It helps build skills for the workplace in explaining concepts. And they like working with the children.

“Personally, it helps to keep me sharp,” Atkinson said. “It’s nice to remember what it’s like to talk to someone who isn’t a proficient programmar.”

Atkinson hopes to have another expo day next year.