Sunday, April 15, 2007

gm shrum

[proud parent post]

Our son Wesley was notified today that he is the recipient of one of the GM Shrum entrance scholarships from SFU (his university of choice)!!!

Wesley's strong grades and school/community service, the glowing reference and nomination forms from his teachers, along with the required 900 word essay, made for a well rounded application (so said the university advisor). Wesley took a couple of months to write the essay, doing a bit each day. The end result was a very well written and insightful read (well, his father and I, along with others who have read it, think so).

With that being said, Wes is allowing me to post his essay. If you are so inclined, have a read and you can decide for yourself. The essay topic was provided by the university.

My Only Real Education Has Come From Life Outside School

When I was two years old, my family received its first home computer. Its whopping array of colours consisted of amber and black, and it possessed no hard drive, but I was immersed. It was enough not only to entertain me, but to interest me deeply in computers for the rest of my life. I think I started at the perfect time; I was in my infancy at the same time as the home computer, and we've grown up together. I have been learning from computers since I put in my first floppy disk and they have been a far greater source of learning and discovery than school so far.

My parents were quick to teach me how to read, but I had an extra aide. A little monochrome Vanna White helped me learn the difference between vowels and consonants as I played my first computer game, Wheel of Fortune. I also learned many new phrases from every round, not to mention, of course, proper spelling. Eventually another game showed up and my linguistic discoveries were supplemented by geography lessons from a classic: the oldest iteration of Carmen Sandiego. As I searched the world for the elusive criminal, I traveled to every major city and learned a little about each. The final task in each session was always to identify a city from a handful of clues which invariably brought me to our household almanac for assistance. While searching the almanac, I would constantly come across additional entries that just caught my eye and were completely unrelated to my main quest. It's amazing how much you can learn about sports when all you need is information on state capitals.

Science and mathematics, the latter half of the educational core, were quick to follow. As defeating nefarious plots is a common theme in games, I moved from stopping crime above ground to preventing biological catastrophe below water. Oceanic exploration joined forces with applied mathematics as I fought back against toxic waste in Operation Neptune. More dastardly (not to mention outlandish) schemes followed as I progressed through the Magic School Bus series saving rainforests and fighting bacteria. In a very short time, I had used computers to explore, even if unwittingly, the basics of the curriculum. Armed with this knowledge, I was ready to start kindergarten.

The start of my formal schooling also marked the purchase of a computer with Windows 3.1. Not only was there a new world to explore, but for the first time I could explore it with a mouse! As much as I used the first computer to learn solid fact, I used the second to build logic and creativity. I used MS Paint incessantly, and once a friend and I realized that you could zoom in to see every individual pixel, we started modifying pictures at that root level to edit the most minor of details to great effect.

As for logic, Battle Chess is a game I vividly remember. I had played chess a bit with my grandfather and a friend of mine, but Battle Chess is what really spurred my interest. It was just a standard chess game with no fancy add-ons except for the fact that the pieces actually fought when they captured each other. The pawns fought with their spears, and the queen's heels innocently clicked along the playing surface before she annihilated other pieces with lighting from her hands reminiscent of Emperor Palpatine. That early captivation engrained within me the principles of chess logic and fundamental problem solving techniques.

One of the most important discoveries I made with Windows 3.1 was the Q-BASIC interpreter which taught me how to construct programs from scratch. Later, a few years after Windows 95 entered our household, I had three behemoth books on Visual Basic and C++ as well.

I spent most of my elementary school years learning about programming and general computing. There were next to no resources at the school itself except for computers with BASIC on them, so almost all of my learning had to be self-directed. I came across an advertisement for Kids' Computer Camps at BCIT that taught a variety of programming languages from Java to C#, sometimes integrated with DirectX or OpenGL. While other kids went out to play, I spent half of five summer vacations programming games.

I imagined that high school would hold more opportunities to enhance my programming abilities, but everything I had learned was past the high school level. A friend and I abandoned the high school computing courses and designed applications together instead. From probability simulators for determining the best blackjack strategy to 3D map generators and many games, we made it all. But we didn't just make games; we also played them.

The depth of knowledge one can acquire from games is amazingly underrated. Besides the specific science required for game design, I've learned a great deal about marketing, statistics, tactics, rational thinking, teamwork, and so much more. A teacher of mine once worked on a project dedicated to making education as exciting and accessible as games. I haven't heard of such a good idea in a long time. It's viable, and I've definitely proven that to myself.

For the past year and a half I have worked at Staples in computer sales, and now as a computer technician. I have also returned twice to the BCIT summer camps, first as a volunteer, and recently as a paid counsellor. These jobs are my most tangible, real-world accomplishments, and the skills that allowed me to acquire them have been learned completely outside a classroom.

Pretty good, eh?


Lori S-C said...

Wow! I'm impressed! There must be some good brain genes in your family! How bout sending some over to mine!

Carla B said...

Woo-hoo!!! It feels so good when one of your kidlings do well!! Congrats!!