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This New Computer Club Is Bringing Video Game Development To Kids On Baffin Island
February 18, 2014
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The Pangnirtung Code Club
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Growing up in Lindsay, Ontario, Ryan Oliver and Michael Despault both took part in a high school programming course that opened their eyes to the possibilities of computer science. Now they're hoping to bring that same experience to children in Pangnirtung, a hamlet of about 1,400 people on Baffin Island.

The Pangnirtung Code Club launched this week during Nunavut's February Spring Break. The nine kids in the program range from ages seven to 19, and are all getting their first look at how a computer works, says Oliver, who's been living in Pangnirtung for eight years (his day job is with the territory's statistics bureau). Although computer games are popular in Nunavut, Oliver says computer science hasn't been taught in the territory before as far as he knows.

"I hope these kids come away with an understanding of what comptuers are doing in the background, and more than anything a sense of control, that they can now manipulate and explore and create with it," he told Strombo.com.

After only two days, the kids are already creating their own spins on different games. Click here to try out Hello Kitty, by seven-year-old Myra Young and here for Hoogaly Boogaly, by 12-year-old Jacob Machmer.

Oliver came up with the idea for the program, and called up his childhoold friend Despault, who now works at EA Sports in Burnaby, B.C., to help him run it. In addition to lending his direct programming expertise, Despault, who's worked on the last four iterations of the popular NHL video game series, has a different EA colleague call in each day to give the students a sense of the different careers that exist in the industry, from graphic design to building rendering engines.

"I wanted to give them the opportunity to have as kids what we had as kids," Despault told Strombo.com.

Funding for the club came from the local youth centre's Making Connections for Youth program, and Oliver is running it in connection with Pinnguaq, a non-profit tech startup in Pangnirtung that's translated the popular iPad game Osmos into Inuktitut and launched the Inuktitut learning app Singuistics.

After Spring Break is over, Oliver plans to run the course every Saturday until the end of April. "This territory has had a history of 'one and done' training opportunities," he said, something he's hoping to avoid.

"The artists and the storytellers here — and yes, I'm biased — are the best in the world," Oliver said. "If we can have kids who can grow up and tell their stories in this kind of medium, it will really be incredible."

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