A group of young people in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, recently had a chance to learn programming from Michael Despault, a software engineer at EA Canada.
Despault’s childhood friend Ryan Oliver lives in the community and runs a nonprofit organization called Pinnguaq (Inuktitut for “play”). Oliver invited Despault to share his experience as a maker of video games during a weeklong camp for kids that took place in February.
Nine children between the ages of six and 19 took part, Despault said by phone from his office in Burnaby. Many of the kids had iPads and laptops, and they certainly knew how to use them. “The kids were so quick,” he said.
The wide range of ages and abilities in reading and math meant that working in a computer-programming language wasn’t an option. So Despault brought in Scratch, a visually based programming tool developed at MIT to help teach programming. Each day, the students devised and built a simple computer game. They also had opportunities to talk with other Electronic Arts employees via video-conference calls.
The programming principles they learned, Despault said, are applicable anywhere. “Basically, they learned the building blocks of how computers think.”