March 4, 2021 By Christina Santucci
An Astoria education center opened in September and is teaching kids about coding — by showing them how to make their own video games.
The owners of the center said students also learn critical thinking. The center is currently offering classes, although at a reduced capacity due to COVID-19
“What we aim to do is build their problem-solving skills,” said co-owner Cheng Yang, a Long Island City resident. Yang opened the center with Ronny Beyer, also from Long Island City.
Yang said they had noticed youth coding centers in Manhattan and Brooklyn but none in western Queens.
“We felt that Astoria and Long Island City lacked such opportunities for kids,” he said. He and Beyer each have a 10-year-old child that attends Code Ninjas.
The pair decided to open a Code Ninjas franchise after visiting another center owned by a friend in Long Island. Code Ninjas, founded in 2016, has 300 locations across North America and the United Kingdom.
Beyer said he and Yang also hope to expand to another location in the future.
Kids — or ninjas — are given games to complete, and then advance to subsequent levels through a progress system similar to martial arts. Beginners are given a white belt, and students work toward a black belt. The end goal is to develop a video game that is published on an app store.
The kids work at their own speed with help from seven instructors — or senseis.
“Our curriculum is self-paced and not self-taught,” Yang said.
Ian Pearson, the center director, said the program keeps children interested in coding through the use of games.
“By gamifying the coding, kids get feedback immediately and interact directly with the games they have built,” Pearson said. “By structuring our curriculum to be project-based, they build upon skills each week to build up to a specific project and learning goal where they feel accomplished; their sense of accomplishment fuels their curiosity to want to learn more.”
Weeknight and weekend sessions take place in person at the Astoria center for participants in the Create program, geared to children ages seven to fourteen. JR classes for younger children — ages five to seven — are currently held at the center on Mondays from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Prices for the programs vary depending on the number of sessions. For example, the JR program cost $149 per month for four classes.
Parents choose the schedule that works for their family and reserve sessions online.
Code Ninjas also holds five-week virtual programming camps where students can learn to customize the game Minecraft and or become a Roblox developer.
The center currently has room for nine students per class. It has reduced its typical capacity in half given COVID-19.
The seats are spaced apart and all face the same direction.
Code Ninjas has also installed an air filter that runs all of the time. Staff do temperature checks when students arrive and ask parents to fill out COVID-19 wellness forms.
“Safety is our number one priority,” Pearson said.
The center also offers a program called “Parent’s Night Out,” where adults can drop their kids off on Friday nights for 3 hours. Children, Pearson says, play the popular video game Among Us in a safe environment and discuss with their classmates who the imposter is. The theme of the night can also change and the group can play Roblox, Minecraft, and Nintendo Switch games.
Additionally, the center offers birthday events where kids can have 90-minute gaming parties. Pearson said they offer Minecraft, Roblox and Among Us-themed parties. The parties can be scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays.
Pearson was introduced to coding in college, where he studied computer game development and programming. He said that kids who learn to code at a young age have an advantage as they progress with their education.
“With them learning coding skills this young, they are becoming more confident in themselves,” he said. “This ultimately translates into children pursuing relevant STEM-based careers and having an advantage in a more competitive economy.”
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