Coding / Education / Roundups / Science / STEM

Baltimore third grader Paxton Summers won a worldwide NASA coding challenge

The Friends School of Baltimore student was one of five winners selected from 10,000 entries to Tynker's challenge to design a mission patch. He and teacher Andrew Hanes talked with us about the project and coding.

Third grader Paxton Summers brought interests in coding and NASA together. (Courtesy photo)

Baltimore third grader Paxton Summers was one of five winners of a recent competition that drew 10,000 entries from the around the world in response to a challenge to design a mission patch design for NASA.

With NASA looking to go back to the moon in 2024 and later to Mars, the space agency teamed with maker platform Tynker to inspire students to get involved in the next mission. Entries came in from around the world, with the other winners chosen by NASA team members hailing from Malaysia and Sri Lanka, as well as Palo Alto, Calif., and Lewiston, Idaho.

Paxton, 8, is a student at the Friends School of Baltimore, where he’s found an interest of coding with the help of programming that started as early as kindergarten. In an interview, he said his love of coding stems from a few interests, including math and video games.

“Coding has a lot of math in it and it’s really fun to do,” Paxton said.

For this particular project, adding NASA to the equation only helped.

Tynker made the space-themed coding challenge available on its platform for a week. The goal was to design a patch like the one an astronaut would wear on a spacesuit, with animation and coding tools available to use.

Paxton learned about it on a Friday when teacher Andrew Hanes showed it to him, just a couple days before deadline. Working at home over the weekend, he created an animation that shows a rocket ship traveling from Earth and flying to Mars. During the flight, a supernova and a meteor pass. Paxton used block coding, and added text boxes along the way.

Paxton’s win earned him a videoconference with a NASA expert. Kevin Metrocavage, who is International Space Station operations manager at NASA HQ, spoke with Paxton and most of his fellow students of Friends School’s lower school during the week of May 20 — timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 10 mission.

“He talked all about innovation and the creative spirit and curiosity behind exploring space,” Hanes said. There was also discussion of his experience accumulating almost an hour of weightlessness on an aircraft called the “Vomit Comet.”

Hanes said students at the school start with coding in kindergarten, and continue progressing with lessons about twice a month in math class. Along the way, they use Tynker as well as and other resources.

“On a day of Tynker or coding in math, there’s usually a cheer that goes through,” Hanes said.

By third grade, students are doing more integrative projects that combine creativity, tech and a “multitude” of other skills, he said.

There’s an animated haiku, or programming two characters to tell a knock-knock joke. In the next grade, they’re animating a Greek myth using block coding. By fifth grade, students are creating their own version of an Atari Palm game.

Throughout our conversation, Paxton and Hanes talked about the various challenges. Paxton explained how one would work on the spot, and Hanes assured the reporter that this wasn’t planned.

Paxton is also thinking about his future. He talked about wanting to attend MIT. Relating it back to the recent mission, he explained how MIT combines engineering, coding and math, just like NASA.

Asked about what advice he has for other students who are looking to get into coding, Paxton acknowledged that sometimes the fun of coding comes with frustration along the way.

His message: “Don’t give up.”

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