A bright young programmer from Philadelphia recently unveiled a video game involving ballerinas, jewels and vampires - sure to be a hit with young girls. The programmer herself also happens to be seven years old.
Zora Ball, a first grader at the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in Philadelphia, created the video game in a class focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics led by Tariq Al-Nasir, who heads the STEMnasium Learning Academy.
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Al-Nasir's organization uses open-source software called Bootstrap and Alice 2.0 that was originally developed for university-level coursework. While sixth and seventh graders are usually advanced enough to begin learning it, Al-Nasir told me he made the software more accessible with a programming language called Racket.
Once he got them into a this new programming environment, Al-Nasir was essentially teaching math to Ball and her classmates in a fun way. The students designed interactive games involving three elements: a player, a goal and something to avoid, all moving along X and Y coordinates. Then they picked a setting for the game.
For Zora Ball, that meant making the player a ballerina who's searching for a jewel in a nail salon while trying to avoid a vampire - something she doesn't like, Al-Nasir said. "She was obviously very comfortable understanding that the danger is moving on the X and the player will be moving on the Y coordinate," he added.
The Philadelphia Tribune's Damon C. Williams called Zora the youngest individual to create a full version of a mobile application video game. Recently Zora demonstrated her skills at Will.i.am's TRANS4M benefit show in Los Angeles, where she showed the singer a new game she'd made. Will.i.am was the player, microphones were the goal and the danger was a bad note, Al-Nasir explained.
And to think that in first grade my big achievement was making a Guy Smiley puppet with a popsicle stick. Seriously, nice work Zora.
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Next, Al-Nasir said his first grade students are going to be designing more elaborate games based on the Alice programming language and then entering them into a competition. Meanwhile his eighth and ninth grade students are developing an app using Java and C programming called "Let Freedom Ring" in tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
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Photo: Zora Ball with her ballerina game. Credit: Curtis Ball