Fun, games rule the day at IN-Tech code competition


It’s judgment time for four sixth-graders, eager to find out if nearly three hours of work paid off.

Soléil Mollenthiel, Max Rossiter, Otis Samb and Ernesto Vincens sat quietly as Beth Colavito — IN-Tech Academy’s computer science teacher — looked over the game they developed, “Pollinators vs. People.”

Music from the television game show “Jeopardy” played in the background as Colavito — wearing her hat as a judge for the school’s first ever Hack League Game Jam — looked at what they developed.

“We decided to make it as dramatic as possible,” Samb said, explaining the graphics behind the project.

“What’s the point of the game?” Colavito asked.

“You need a lot of pollinators …” Vincens replied.

“Or we will all die,” Rossiter said, finishing the sentence.

The day was part of the city’s education department’s Computer Science Education Week. It’s part of the new CS4All Hack League, a citywide coding competition that encourages 62 middle and high schools from across the five boroughs to create and design games in school-based hack-athons.

These four sixth-graders, who called their group “Starbucks Iced Team,” viewed the day as a way to have fun on a Saturday, however, and spend time with friends.

“I just wanted to do something,” Mollenthiel said. “Otherwise, I’d stay in my room all day and watching TV and playing Roblox,” a software which allows users to create online games.

She also had another reason for coming out — “a way to get free food.”
“Pizza prices have gone up,” she added.

In “Pollinators vs. People” a character rides in a dune buggy, choosing which virtual world to drive through. One area has been pollinated by bees, the other had not. The pollination area is filled with colorful flowers and butterflies. The other was dark, dreary and filled with tombstones and corpses lying around, demonstrating the need for bees to stimulate plant growth.

While they might not have planned to really compete, Samb and his teammates certainly didn’t want to finish last.

Games in the Hack League Game Jam had to be fun and engaging while promoting the theme of kindness or wildlife preservation. Students also had to show how they coded the project — and, of course, it had to work.

Between the fun and excitement of the event, the day still served as a learning experience — and, not just for students.

The event “gives me a chance to look at the different ways that the students approach learning,” said Walker Wilson, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at IN-Tech, who also was a judge. “My goal is learning (from) them and figure out how I could implement this into my classroom.”

Many of the teams faced various struggles during the competition, Wilson said, but stayed motivated to find a solution.

“It’s so foreign to me,” said Amanda Johnson, Samb’s mother. “I’m Gen X and …that kind of thing is so far removed.”

Samb always enjoyed video games, Johnson said, and now he thinks about how to create his own because of IN-Tech’s emphasis on computer science and coding.

The “Final Jeopardy” music finally ended, followed by a brief silence. Then, a dramatic drum roll as the judges announced the first and second place winners.

Starbucks Ice Team wasn’t one of them. But they were unfazed. They congratulated the members of The Warriors — Youseff Shihadeh, Abraham Shihadeh, Jared Vargas and Mieckol Rodas — who developed “Racing for Life,” which after reaching a certain level, allows players to race cars to collect coins, which can in turn be used to make cash donations to nonprofits like the American Cancer Society.

The Warriors will represent IN-Tech at the Bronx competition. If they win there, they’ll move to the citywide level.

Overall, more than 40 students took part in the IN-Tech competition. Colavito simply wanted those participating to learn coding is within anyone’s skillset — and you still can have fun while learning.

“As long as they can add, subtract, multiply and divide, they can pretty much code and design anything they want,” Colavito said.

“As long as you can figure out the math behind it, you can get your program to do whatever you want.”