Code Teal: Making Computer Science Fun with Hockey
By Michaela Yamashita
The applications of coding are endless, so why limit a programming activity to a screen?
Innovation on Ice: Code Teal asks visitors to create a program to guide a motorized puck around a “hockey rink” using block coding.
Code Teal brings programming into the physical world and emphasizes computational thinking competencies that are valuable not only within computer science, but across all disciplines.
The development of Code Teal can be broken down into four aspects: the puck, the hockey rink, the coding platform and the visitors. Every aspect went through its own design process.
Designing the puck to be as compact as possible required some rapid prototyping, countless iterations and many deep breaths. The specific constraints of the puck left little room for error in measurements, most notably the alignment of an extension for the itty-bitty switch on board the Micro:Bit.
As a result, the components printed earlier in the design process were often just a little too large, small, thick, thin, long or short. There were some tense moments between myself and our Ultimaker as it printed the revised pieces (hence, the deep breaths). However, as tedious as the process was, it was an equally satisfying moment when everything fit together snuggly.
- 3D printed with PLA filament
- Micro:Bit: controls the puck
- Servo:Lite board: provides power for the motors
- 2x servo motors
The Hockey Rink
The hockey rink design was essentially my playground while developing this activity. Since the Neopixels attached the rink are RGB LEDs and can be addressed individually I was excited by the possibility of creating an interaction with the hockey rink possibly by having the lights toggle color as the puck passes over in order to see the resulting path.
I decided to work with copper tape because the potential mess of tangled wires that could result from incorporating fifteen sensors in order to provide an interaction between the puck and each individual light.
Tinkering with the light-up rink idea was fun, and allowed me to explore adding “pretty lights” that still benefited the activity by providing a visual feedback for the visitor. Even though the most recent iteration was too finicky to put on the floor the sensors and connections are still intact, thus leaving the possibility of another iteration.
- Neopixels: LEDs under the acrylic “ice”
- Arduino and battery pack: controls and power the Neopixels
- Copper tape
The Coding Platform
Through the development, I was able to fall back and reflect on the same set of competencies the activity aims to convey: breaking down a larger problem, creating a step by step solution and recognizing patterns.
While my end goal may have been different from those of our visitors participating in Code Teal, going through this process allowed me to empathize with those who are unfamiliar or lacking confidence in their coding abilities and create an experience that hopefully encourages play without the fear of “failing”.
- Microsoft Programming Experience Toolkit (PXT): open sourced project used as a starting point for the Code Teal editor
- Code Teal Editor
- Original Micro:Bit editor: along with editors for other microcontrollers
The final aspect of any activity is one that developers have little to no control over: the visitors! You never know how someone will interact with the experience. I personally enjoyed seeing guests give their puck a bit of personality and style by using the programming blocks that had originally been designed to move the puck between lights to also add in a celebratory dance through spinning at the end.
In the Tech Studio, our projects, programs, and activities are never fully “finished” or completely set. Instead, they are viewed as works in progress with our visitors’ interactions always informing us on ways to make it more fun, engaging or beneficial for them. This working mindset is why these moments of creativity and play are not just a display of our visitors’ creative skills, but also provide inspiration for me as a developer to inform future iterations or activities.
You never know, one day there might be a fully light-up Code Teal rink with LEDs in every color of the rainbow. An experience developer can dream!
Weekdays, 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. April 15th through May 3rd: We’re celebrating the Sharks in the playoffs by bringing back the Innovation on Ice: Skate Design Challenge.