Owen Stokes, owner of Level Up Learning Centre Beaches, an International Camp for Kids, is using video games to give kids a level up in an increasingly digital world.
Owen teaches kids 8 to 16 years old basic coding and STEM lessons using the ever so popular video game Minecraft. However, Owen’s career didn’t start in coding, and it definitely didn’t star with teaching.
With more than 30 years of experience writing programs, Owen has worked for major brokerages and start-ups doing everything including sales, product management and design. He is an affluent programmer, but entering university coding wasn’t on his mind.
Owen attended Western University with the intention of becoming a chief financial officer. “Growing up
math and science came naturally to me,” he says. During his first year, Owen had to choose an optional course and his mom suggested picking a class in computer science, which was different but he thought he’d give it a shot. He loved it. By second year he switched from business to computer science. Landed a programming job for a company in Markham after finishing school.
Fast forward to 2019, Owen is thinking of retiring, but he doesn’t want to just stop, so he brought Level Up to the Beaches instead. The program started as a beta last summer, and was very successful. Now the centre on Queen Street is fully opened, there are after school programs, some are girls only, and March Break programs.
The Level Up site is a kid’s dream world. The space is equipped with laptops, robots, 3D printers and a green screen. Kids learn how to build their own unique shields and hang landscapes by writing programs using Java. They can make their own Lego-like robot and program it to move.
Besides coding, the course teaches real world skills like critical thinking and problem solving. “Kids have to think of a design, understand the potential challenges and troubleshoot. It encourages creativity and learning from your mistakes,” says Owen. “Learning these skills early will help their success in the future no matter what career stream they choose.”
Owen’s favourite part of the job is seeing the enthusiasm on his students’ faces when they solve a problem. “When a kid is looking at a code that doesn’t seem to work, I’ll give them a little direction,” he says. “They take their time and look over the code. Most of the time the issue is a syntax error like using a lower case instead of upper, or missing a bracket,” says Owen.
Once the kid makes the connection and finds the root of the problem, they have a huge grin on their face and can’t wait to fix it. “It’s like they opened a treasure box,” he says.
Teaching actually runs in the Stokes family. His mom was a teacher; dad was a substitute teacher, brother and sister-in law were all teachers. “Teaching runs in the blood. The gene skipped me until now,” he says.
Owen has lived in the Beaches for 30 years. He says the Level Up Learning Center is a great way for him to give back to the neighbourhood and add vibrancy to the storefront. In January, when TDSB classes were cancelled, Owen stepped up to run a day program to provide a service for families in the Beaches without childcare.
“The Beaches has been good to me and this is my chance to give back,” says Owen.
Level Up Toronto Beaches | 1767 Queen St. E. | 416-821-3329 | levelupkids.ca/toronto-beaches