I was asked last week to deliver a programming session as part of Brinsworth’s Engineering Week. Through the cunning use of wording on one powerpoint slide I managed to justify having pupils develop their own FlappyBird clone as a disciplined approach to software engineering …
It’s always great fun to get kids coding, though having such a limited time (1h20m) is very restricting – especially when half of the class haven’t any previous programming experience. As per my sixth-form (Y12) enrichment program I rely heavily on the wonders of Actionscript, and the use of a good solid framework – in this case I chose the excellent GPU-powered Starling framework from Gamua, backed by Adobe. I’d built a skeleton game, and left some of the core functionality open for the kids to hack around with – most of the state handling, event handling and other was hidden away.
Though Flash and actionscript is still getting a hard time in the general press (though they turn a blind eye to the cross-browser and cross-platform misery of HTML5 and the endless bugs brought in with every browser release) but as a learning language it is great – and having access to a free IDE in FlashDevelop that can quickly push to multiple platforms (either desktop player or AIR) is a life-saver in an educational environment.
We blasted through loads of concepts; making stuff move, coordinate systems, physics systems, bounding box collisions, and by the end of the session everyone had managed to get working game, with a build prepared for Android devices. They at least had the ability to alter some of the game mechanics, changing speed, gravity and could access the graphics assets to allow for some customisation.
I really enjoyed the session, and I hope that the smiling faces and laughter from the kids was a good indication that they did too. It’s always difficult to gauge the impact of such short, sharp lessons on coding – the topic of debate recently regarding the much-derided “Hour of Code” – but perhaps just one pupil may be inspired to go home, take their code, install the IDE and have a go. The best solution of course would be to come back every week, but until the Computing curriculum appears here, I’ll have to be content in updating FlappyCloneBird to version 2.0 for 2015.