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Tech-savvy mentors help youth create video games

What do the Pythagorean theorem and cartoon characters like Casper the Friendly Ghost and Stewie from Family Guy have in common? They were both used this spring semester to help teach local youth how to create video games, with the assistance from student volunteers studying computer science and business at Northeastern.

The initiative revolves around Bootstrap, a free curriculum that since 2005 has been used to teach students nationwide—primarily ages 12-16—to program their own video games using algebraic and geometric concepts. The mission is to build excitement and confidence around gaming and for students to apply these skills in fun projects.

Earlier this year, the Bootstrap program received accolades after several news outlets reported a first grader in Philadelphia became the youngest person to create a full version of a mobile video-game application—a feat the 7-year-old achieved using Bootstrap.

Northeastern has been a longstanding supporter of Bootstrap. This semester, Bootstrap partnered with the university, TripAdvisor, and Citizen Schools to bring the curriculum to three Massachusetts schools: the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, the Dever-McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, and the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury.

On May 13, the university hosted an expo in the Curry Student Center for 12 of the middle-school students to showcase their projects, who wore black t-shirts with the words, “I program my own video games.”

This semester marked the fourth time Tyler Rosini, a computer science and finance combined major, has volunteered to teach through the program. “I like the idea of giving back to kids,” said Rosini, who recalled being inspired to participate when Bootstrap creator Emmanuel Schanzer pitched the opportunity during one of Rosini’s first-year classes.

The premise of the computer games on display is simple: The user controls a cartoon character on the screen, and the character racks up points by capturing a target that continually moves across the screen. At the same time, the character must avoid coming into contact with a separate moving target, a villain of sorts.

Rosini and fourth-year student Joe O’Neil, a computer science and accounting combined major, have volunteered once a week this semester in the Edwards School. The lessons started with teaching simple concepts about writing code and programming. Over a 10-week span, Rosini and O’Neil added new elements to their lessons, from creating the characters on screen to allowing them to move in different directions.

After his first semester volunteering, O’Neil embraced reversing his role in the classroom from student to teacher. “I was impressed with how quickly some of the kids picked up these challenging concepts,” he said.

Students interested in volunteering in future semesters can contact Emma Youndtsmith at emma@bootstrapworld.org.