Bruce Johnson of Honesdale is improving his area’s access to technology and programming at the young age of sixteen. His company, Pi Crafters, has been teaching children from ages eight through fifteen the basics of programming since fall 2015. The company’s name is based on the computer game Minecraft and the mini-computer used in his classes called a Raspberry Pi.
He explained that the company began with the Raspberry Pi’s mini-computers that are easily programmable. He was playing Minecraft with his three brothers, and he found a way to connect programming with the game.
“And I said, ‘You know what? This is really cool! Maybe I can use this and teach people the same thing,’” he said of his epiphany. “After that, I asked the library for permission to use one of their rooms, and that same night I was teaching some kids how to program on Minecraft.”
Bruce has been gaming and programming since a young age, and he loves working with little kids; his mother’s daycare run inside the Johnson household is a big part of that. His classes run by semester, one fall and one spring, and cost $30 for the whole six month semester.
“I’m getting new equipment and techology that I can use in the class (helping to) draw more people to it,” he explained of the class fee.
In the Pi Crafters’ beginners class, students learn how to use four different computer programming languages, one month for each topic. Once students complete the beginner class, they are eligible to upgrade to the advanced class, where each topic is discussed in more depth.
For the first month of the class, Bruce focuses on teaching HTML, a program used to create the skeleton of websites, before moving to the more complicated CSS. Next comes Arduino, a microcontroller platform that is programmable. The series then ends with Python, another popular computer language.
Bruce explained that if he could go back to the beginning of his journey with Pi Crafters, he would have made the classes more hands-on to keep the kids engaged. In the 2016 fall semester, he has taken steps to do just that by incorporating activities that make the students get out of their seats and move around. So far in his career, his proudest moment has been seeing the class steadily grow, going from 4 to 15 students.
There have certainly been other challenges though. Bruce said that advertisement and getting the word out has been difficult. People have been learning about the classes by word of mouth and through flyers, but he hopes to change that to be more robust in the future.
But that doesn’t seem to be slowing down Pi Crafters at all. Bruce’s ultimate goal for Pi Crafters and technology as a whole in NEPA is to not only have a class, but also a community of programmers and a center where gamers can gather and talk. He also hopes that programmers from other counties in the area can share ideas and work on projects, and possibly create job opportunities through this ‘technological hub’.
“Hopefully within four to five years we can get a local hacker-space working.”
So for Bruce Johnson and his company, things are going well. Pi Crafters is growing and expanding with each passing semester, and is gaining more popularity as well. Students keep coming back and are certainly enjoying learning from an experienced and dedicated teacher.
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Correction: The article originally stated that courses were $30 per year. The courses are $30 per six month semester.