By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Come Saturday, there’s a new game in town.
Code Ninjas, a franchise of education centers that teach young students coding, is set to open a new location at 4694 King St. this weekend.
Code Ninjas aims to educate its students using something they’re already familiar with: video games. Based around a karate theme, staff refer to the center as a dojo, the students as ninjas and the high school-age teachers as coding sensei.
“Kids these days already have a ton of screen time, and they’re already so exposed to video games, so Code Ninjas turns that on a 180,” Emma Vandermark, a public relations representative for Code Ninjas, said. “Instead of playing the games, these kids are building them instead and using games that they’re already familiar with to do that.”
At Code Ninjas centers, students learn through projects that involve building video games that range from something like Tetris to more complex games involving animation and 3D worlds.
“A lot of the kids that we’ve had in are kids that love gaming, but they’re creative and they love to learn how things work,” David Ryan, owner of the Alexandria Code Ninjas center, said.“It’s good for them to have a place to come where they can do that.”
Video games aren’t just a way to entertain the program’s young students, either. They also provide constantly challenging lesson material, more so than other computer science learning tools.
“If we just taught them to build web applications, APIs or websites, it would get kind of boring and they’re not as complex as games,” Ryan said. “Especially when you get into the 3D animation and all the functions required, they are learning a broader spectrum of the computer language itself and all the functions within that by building games.”
Students work through projects – each one is a new game – and are able to share those games with friends, family and fellow ninjas.
Those projects are part of a curriculum that allows students to learn at their own pace. It’s also convenient for parents, since there are no set hours for lesson times. Instead, parents can schedule lesson times at any point in a week.
(Read more: Compass opens second Alexandria office)
If parents opt for the basic program – two hours per week normally spread across two one-hour sessions – students can come in whenever they want to fulfill those hours. Each student is given a wristband with a radio frequency identification tag in it that they can use to scan into the system and initiate their session. Lessons can be as short as 45 minutes and start at $99 per month.
The company’s flexible game-based model for computer science education has taken off across the country, coinciding with the rise of the larger video game industry.
Given the popularity of video games and increasing levels of technical literacy among younger generations, it should come as no surprise.
In 2018, the video game industry brought in $43 billion in revenue, according to the Entertainment Software Association, surpassing the film industry’s $41.1 billion global box office revenue that same year.
Since Houston software developer David Graham founded the program in 2016, Code Ninjas has expanded to more than 100 centers, with more than 400 more in development, including some in Canada and the U.K., Vandermark said.
Code Ninjas is looking to expand its classes to students as young as four years old, partnering with codeSpark, a code learning app for kids. The company launched its Junior Program as a pilot in October. Meanwhile, Code Ninjas is also developing Code Ninjas Pro, a program geared toward high school students and adults.
There are seven Code Ninjas centers in Northern Virginia. Ryan signed an area development agreement to open three locations: Falls Church, Alexandria and Springfield. The Falls Church location opened in May, and the Springfield center is due to open in 2020, Ryan said.
But since investing in Code Ninjas franchises, Ryan knew he wanted to open a location in Alexandria, and not only because his family lives in the city.
“It’s interesting because if you look in the Alexandria area specifically, there’s not a lot in this area as far as this field, STEM education,” Ryan said. “… We need some of this around here.”
Code Ninjas is filling a gap for students who find themselves drawn to coding and game design yet unable to learn more than rudimentary skills in school.
“Code Ninjas sees that there’s a large problem in kids falling behind with the rest of the world in different STEM subjects, so Code Ninjas is kind of there to go beyond what kids are trying to learn in school and making it into an after school program where they can learn coding but in a really fun and exciting way,” Vandermark said.
As a result, Code Ninjas is offering students an opportunity to learn skills that are more valuable now than they’ve ever been, Ryan said.
“Sixty-five percent of kids that are in secondary and primary schools today will be in jobs in the future that do not exist yet,” Ryan said.“…If a kid is in our program from white to black belt and they become a game developer, that’s awesome. But I think what’s more important is that these kids are exposed to this type of technology … and they have an understanding of the technology.”
Although the Falls Church center initially had relatively slow enrollment growth, the location had more than 185 kids enrolled in summer camp programs by the end of the summer, Ryan said. And the Alexandria center has already received interest from parents and students ahead of its opening.
“I’ve seen a lot more [inquiry] traffic coming into Alexandria than I did when we first opened Falls Church, so I think there’s a lot of parents in the Alexandria area that are going to be excited about this,” Ryan said.
In addition to the Saturday opening, Code Ninjas will hold a grand opening on Dec. 7. As part of Computer Science Education Week, the center will also offer free hour-long code sessions the second week of December.