Featured Maker: Dawson the New Coding Star!

Featured Maker: Dawson the New Coding Star!
Last Updated: January 15, 2021 1:58 pm

With Tynker’s Holiday Code Jam winners being announced today, we wanted to continue to introduce you to some of the winners of this year’s Summer Code Jam! We’re so impressed with the tens of thousands of submissions from throughout the summer and excited to talk to some of our winners about their awesome projects and experiences with Tynker!

Next up is Dawson, an eighth grader from Massachusetts! He’s got a ton of hobbies, like tennis, hockey, soccer, and Pokemon. He’s actually pretty new to coding, and winning the Code Jam is a pretty good start! Let’s talk to him and hear his story.

How did you get introduced to Tynker and how long have you been coding? 

I think I’ve been coding for two years. My tech teacher introduced it to me in 5th or 6th grade. 

How did you learn how to use Tynker when you were first starting out? What are your favorite Tynker courses or tutorials? My teacher gave us the tutorials and courses. Sometimes he thought we could just do our own thing so we’d make games or do the mob editor. I thought it was good that he’d give us the lessons but I also liked going off my own and learning by myself too. I also like the things that help you out in Tynker! 

How have your coding skills improved since you started using Tynker?

I think they’ve improved a lot! I haven’t learned Python yet but I think it’s really helped me learn a lot of coding. I’d go to the community and stuff and I’d see these real cool games that people made and I’d be like, “I wish I could make that!” but now I can! I can make some cooler stuff now, because I’ve learned a lot. 

What is your favorite project you’ve made so far? What do you like about it? I like my emergency helicopter a lot! I did make this other helicopter that had a guy hanging down from it on a ladder. 

Where did you get the idea for your project? How long did it take you to make? 

It was a search helicopter with beams of light coming from it. I did see the other helicopters like military ones on Tynker that other people had made and I thought that was really interesting but I didn’t want to copy them. So I worked really hard to make my own, putting other things like the beams of light that made it look really cool.

How do you get inspiration for your projects? 

I kind of think of it in my head and sometimes I’ll look in the community and I’ll think of things other people have made and think of other ideas from that, like things to add. If they had rockets or something like that, maybe I’d add something like that. 

Why do you like to code? I think it might help me later in life, my dad is an engineer. He’s a manager for this engineering company. I think it’s really fun to do.

What is your favorite way to use code? Do you have a favorite code block? 

I like all of it! I just do what I want to do at that time. I think the “forever” block is really cool because it does it forever and you don’t have to worry about putting so many things in.

What do you do with a project when you’re done with it? Do you debug it? Show it to someone? Publish it? I’m always showing my family my projects because I’m really excited about every single one. For my search helicopter, I went back to it and added the ladder and guy on it. So, sometimes I’ll go and edit them again.

What’s the best thing about Tynker? I like a lot of Tynker. I really like the games you can do, like Crystal Clash and the other games. I really like the Mob Editor. That’s probably one of my favorite things because you can’t really find that anywhere else. 

Is there anything we should change or add to Tynker? 

For the Mob editor, maybe you could add a skeleton? More mobs you could make, take from the community. 

How do you think learning to code has prepared you for the future? 

Well, I mean the world is shifting over to electronics so that might really help for the future. My dad is an engineer so maybe I have those skills to be an engineer someday too!

Do you think other kids should try coding? Why’s that? 

Definitely, I think this is a really good learning experience for kids. Even older kids like teenagers, this could really help them learn to code. 

What advice would you give to kids starting out with Tynker? 

They should use lessons first, look into the lessons like the dragon stuff, where you can move them with the code blocks. You get more and more advanced and you can move forward from that.

How did you come up with your Code Jam idea?

It might have been something in the back of my head because in Methuen they were having these free movie things and my mom told us that when we were driving. It must have been in the back of my head when we were driving because one of the movies that they were playing was Fire, the movie, the firefighter one, so that’s all I could think of, for the emergency helicopter. Firefighters don’t really have emergency helicopters, but the firefighter idea led to the emergency helicopter idea because I wanted it to be a flying vehicle.  

Had you ever done a Tynker Code Jam before?

No, I only heard of it a few weeks ago because my mom told me and I said, “That sounds interesting!” so I went and did it but I’d missed the first few already. But then I saw the Week 4 one, I thought it was “Make your own flying vehicle” and I got wicked excited so I hopped on and made one. 

How long did it take you to complete the project?

Probably a few hours. I spent a lot of that day just fixing it, tweaking it, making it different, changing the colors. So it took a few hours. 

Did you have any interesting challenges that you had to figure out – like how to move legs or add the right music?

There were a lot of challenges making it. I didn’t know what to do for the back of it. I didn’t really know what to do for the front of it, like the glass. I didn’t know if I should make it one of the parts that points out from the helicopter or if I should just leave it flat so I decided to make one that was flat and one that had a bumper. 

How did you feel when their parents told them that they won?

I went on to watch the Zoom call and I was so excited, I couldn’t believe that I’d win! I thought I might win because I put a lot of work into my project so I thought I had a good chance, but I didn’t really know. 

What do you want to do with your prize money?

Not really, I think I’m going to save it for something.

Do you like to code and will you keep learning more about coding?

I definitely want to learn more about coding. My dad did get me a Python book so I might keep reading that. It’s really complicated to me, though. I don’t know how to read it.

We also spoke with Dawson’s dad Dustin to get his take on Dawson learning to code. “I think it’s pretty great! I’m a software engineer myself. I started coding when I was pretty young, when I was in middle school. I won a computer, started to play with it, and just loved to program. It ended up becoming my career. When Dawson and his younger brother were born I was like, ‘I’d really love them to develop that love of coding I have, but if they don’t, that’s cool too! Maybe there’ll be some day they get curious and we can build something fun.’”

Dustin notes that things have changed a lot since he was growing up, when Nintendo was about the extent of digital gaming. Kids’ expectations of what a game should look like is much higher and that can be challenging. “It’s just a lot higher of a bar, I think, just to start. So, I think it’s great that the kids got introduced at school to Tynker. You know, they do these at school, they start doing it at home, and then they really just start finding their interest. They were both sitting side-by-side, working independently on projects together, so it’s been really cool to see them develop a curiosity in it. And, you know, finding interest in the complex logic they need to build something interesting.”

As an engineer himself, Dustin is always sure to support Dawson in coding. “Usually, he’ll show me something in Tynker, like in the 3D designer. He shows me the 3D view of these objects, he can manipulate them and zoom in, he’s showing me, like a digital artist, how he designed this part of it and how he wants to animate it and what he wants to make it do, so it’s more of a show-and-tell than helping him. He’s independently going off and building things on his own.”

Our thanks to Dawson and Dustin both for sitting down and talking to us. Happy coding!

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