A few weeks ago I was able to attend the Mini Maker Faire in Cleveland, Ohio where I got to meet with local Makers and discuss a variety of subjects including Raspberry Pi, 3D Printing, and programming. One of the highlights of my trip there was meeting the Dave and Lauren Egts. Lauren was there presenting on the Scratch Game she designed “The Great Guinea Pig Escape” I was very impressed with her interest in programming at such a young age and was able to discuss with her and her father how she got involved in programming, her thoughts on Raspberry Pi and what is next for this father daughter programming team.
When did you first get started in programming?
I first got started in 5th grade over Christmas break. My dad showed me how to write bash scripts on Linux in what we called "Daddy's Computer Camp." That February, I made my dad a Valentine's Day robot that had bash code on the front.
What do you think of the Raspberry Pi?
Raspberry Pi is the perfect device for kids to get into programming. If you're a kid and you start programming on the family computer, there's always the worry that you might brick the computer somehow. This is why I love the Raspberry Pi. It doesn't really matter if I break it because it is so low cost that I can easily get another one, and I don't have to worry about somehow deleting all of the documents on the family computer by accident. I also love that it comes with two programming languages, Scratch and Python. Scratch is a simple visual programming language. It's a great way to get kids into programming because it's easy to use and pretty self explanatory. I haven't really looked at Python yet, but I know that is more complex than Scratch. Now that I have a solid understanding of programming constructs with Scratch, I think I'm ready for Python!
Where did you come up with the idea for "The Great Guinea Pig Escape"?
During Spring Break, we learned the basics of Scratch using the Raspberry Pi Education Manual (http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/2965). The same day, my dad took me out to lunch, and we started talking about what kind of game I wanted to program. I have two guinea pigs, Ginners and Fibonacci (see picture -- Fibonacci is on the left and Ginners is on the right), and they really inspired the game. We were talking about my guinea pigs, then we came up with the idea to make a game about them. My guinea pigs love lettuce, but hate being picked up. I wanted to incorporate these elements into my game. This is where I came up with the idea of having lettuce falling from the sky, and having the hand bounce off the walls. Eating the lettuce adds a point to your score, and being picked up by the hand adds a few seconds to your time, and the goal of the game is to get through all four levels in as little time as possible. Once we had a storyboard on a few restaurant napkins, I got very excited and told my dad "Daddy, we need to go home now so I can start programming!"
How long did it take you to make?
It took me about six hours to make, over the course of a few weeks. Not only did I do the programming on the Raspberry Pi, I spent a lot of time on the school bus doing the design. Scratch on the Raspberry Pi really captured my imagination!
Are you working on anything else currently, or want to work on something?
Currently I am working on a game where you dress a snowman with the traditional scarf, hat, buttons, etc., but then if you press the a, s, d, f, and j keys, the decorations will change colors. I hope to upload it to the Scratch site soon. I love being able to share my programs with people who don't have Scratch like my friends and grandparents. It's a great way to show people what's possible and inspire them to get a Raspberry Pi and Scratch too!
What advice could you give to other young Makers/programmers?
Don't be afraid that you might do something wrong, or bad, or that being a Maker isn't "cool." Making things is a great way to express yourself and to show the world how you're unique. Anybody can play a video game, but few people actually write them. If you have never tried being a Maker or programming, go for it! Get a Raspberry Pi or go to a local Makerspace like Akron's SYN/HAK (http://synhak.org/), and just try it!
What was your reaction when Lauren took interest in programming?
As a computer scientist, I was a happy daddy! At first, I'm sure her interest was less about programming and more about spending time with her dad. My goal was to get her as excited about programming as I was when I was her age so she would love of programming whether or not I was by her side. With this in mind, we spent a lot of time putting the programming in the context of her passions such as Guinea Pigs and Star Trek. For the record, Lauren wants to be a red shirt because Scotty was an engineer and red shirt too!
What advice do you have for parents of young makers to keep them interested?
Encourage your kids to be fearless and let them know its ok to make mistakes. It's through their mistakes that they learn. Sometimes a spectacular failure is more memorable than getting it perfect the first time. Kids learn best through experimentation where they can see cause and effect. Get them their own easy to use and low cost devices such as the Raspberry Pi and encourage them to unleash their creativity. My favorite memories of using the Raspberry Pi with Lauren is when she would ask "What if?" to build upon what she just accomplished.
A big thank you to the Egts family for letting us share their story with the element14 community, make sure you try out Lauren’s game “The Great Guinea Pig Escape”.
About Lauren Egts
Lauren will be a freshman merit scholar this Fall in Hathaway Brown High School's Science, Research, and Engineering Program (SREP). She enjoys evangelizing about technology and has spoken to the Akron Linux User Group, presented at the Cleveland Mini-Maker Faire, and serves as student advisor to Gator Gaming, a video game design class at her school. She is a finalist for the Case Western University think[box] internship. In her spare time, she enjoys singing with the Summit County Choral Society Concert Choir, fostering animals, and hacking her LEGO R2D2 robot. Lauren is known for her work ethic, love of guinea pigs, and generously serving Rasberry Pi.
About David Egts
David Egts is Lauren's dad as well as the Principal Architect of Red Hat's Public Sector organization. David specializes in the application of open source enterprise technologies at federal, state, and local government agencies, and educational institutions. In his spare time, he and Lauren encourage youth to get involved with STEM and challenge them to be Makers. Follow David on Twitter at @davidegts and listen to the podcast he co-hosts at http://dgshow.org