Mentoring (chess game + environment) project for 3 middle schoolers for a year during the tough times…

By Grant Cheng(ACF Startup team “Ecohero” coach)

After more than a year of work, the Ecohero team has slowly but surely created their environmentally-based chess app from scratch. Alvin, Dohyun, and Jarron have gone from no experience in JavaScript to developing a full-blown, competition-worthy chess app built almost entirely from scratch using HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Node.js. I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring the team every step of the way, starting from a blank white page. On top of development work throughout the year, they’ve spent much time presenting their materials to environmental industry professionals. In addition, they’ve studied and implemented intricate entrepreneurship methods through self-assigned reading. To top it all off, they’ve also worked hard to sign up for competitions such as the Congressional App Challenge to showcase their effort. I know that their work has the potential to be unique, and I’m glad to have been the one to mentor them alongside Nathan(Ecohero team co-coach).

It is essential first to understand why they made it. During brainstorming, making an environmental chess game came as a natural choice for a team learning to code JavaScript together to create. They didn’t just want some random project: they wanted to engage in the community and make a social impact. As a team based in the Bay Area, something that stood out the most was the at-the-time-recent wildfires that raged through California in the Fall of 2020. What was particularly impactful about that experience compared to others was the apocalyptic-orange skies that hung over them throughout the entire day on September 9. There may have been many factors that led up to the fires, but they all boil down to one thing: climate change.

At the same time, as COVID-19 spread rapidly across the United States, forcing people into quarantine, chess rose to popularity, especially among the younger population. With major social influencers from Twitch, a popular streaming platform, participating in a massive chess tournament known as PogChamps, chess instantly became a go-to game for many who were bored at home, myself included. So the team put two and two together and decided to create a chess game with an environmental focus.

So what did they make? What does an environmentally-based chess game look like? This was likely the most challenging part of the project for the team, aside from any actual coding. They spent weeks refining an idea in their head that was both feasible and effective. After receiving the advice from multiple industry professionals in environmental preservation that the team themselves reached out to, they landed with their current idea. The game consists of regular chess, but users can select an environment focus to learn more about. The pieces are modified to represent important animals in various ecosystems. Facts and solutions towards whatever may cause the most significant harm are presented to the user. These are the first steps in the team’s effort to gamify the idea of saving the environment in hopes that it would be more appealing than simply informing people. They reasoned that it would also target an audience that may not have had extensive previous exposure to climate change movements and may not know the necessary resources to help save the planet. While it may not seem like too much, keep in mind that it’s the little things that build up to create an enormous impact.

To create that much, it took the team over a year. Finally, in September of 2020, the group even started learning JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. To go from that to creating an entire app from scratch is fantastic, even to someone who watched the whole process from start to finish. It wasn’t just their coding abilities: it was also their ability to stick to a plan and ask for help. While many teams can start with an idea, many projects will fail due to a lack of commitment. The dedication from each team member was terrific, and they were able to trudge their way through the complicated logic of chess and make it their own.

Climate change will continue to be an essential topic for years to come. Even recently, popular YouTubers MrBeast and Mark Robert have initiated #TeamSeas, a charity movement promising to remove one pound of trash from the ocean for everyone dollar donated. Chess ceases to fade into the background and continues to be a popular sport that many still play even after the initial boom. The team is now at the cusp between development and release. Soon, their efforts will be on full display to everyone, their project fully live. But this isn’t the end. Even after release, the team still plans to receive feedback to improve their game further. They’ve already done so much more than many other people their age, and I look forward to seeing how they will continue to pursue their endeavors.

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