Thanks to his father's passion for chess, Tony learned to play at the young age of 4. He loved patterns, endless possibilities, and competitiveness of chess.
By middle school, he was competing in regional tournaments and Northern California’s CalChess competitions. In high school, to make some lunch money, Tony also began teaching chess to his friends' younger siblings. Although he enjoyed competing, Tony realized he enjoyed teaching even more.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 and moving back to San Francisco, Tony knew he wanted to get back to teaching, so he listed himself as a chess teacher on a popular tutoring website. Within a few days, he had his first student.
By the year’s end, Tony now had a lot of young chess students, many of whom were learning very quickly. He began to think about how to create something that would further challenge their critical thinking skills, and be even more fun.
Rewind 20 years.
Charles was captivated by his friends' video games, Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario. He wondered how they were made and wanted to make a game of his own.
When Charles was 7, his uncle gave him a Visual Basic programming book.
Realizing that this book was the key to making his own game, Charles read it from cover to cover in a week. He carried the book around everywhere he went until it fell apart from so much use. Internet access was limited and his teachers did not know how to program computers so he had to teach everything to himself.
Eventually by the time he was 12 years old, he finally succeeded in making his own 3D racing game! Discovering that he had a passion for programming, Charles went on to teach himself C++ and build an operating system from scratch in high school. He also made several more games.
He received an acceptance letter from Cornell University after sending the admissions department a DVD of the flight simulator that he programmed. The admissions officers even mentioned that they watched his video to him when he toured the campus! As a first generation college student, he was one of the only students ever in the history of his high school to receive an acceptance from Cornell.
Realizing that programming was a powerful way of creating new opportunities for people, he set out to teach as many people as possible to help them improve their lives as well.
After teaching classes in person for a few months, Tony wanted to scale up his operations, but given the cost of real estate in San Francisco, opening a classroom seemed impossible without increasing his rates significantly. So he began testing an online course system with all the necessary features to run classes remotely: live video chat, screen sharing, and a fun curriculum.
As for the curriculum, Tony and Charles wanted to give students a creative space to pursue projects that they are passionate about. After all, how can a child play with LEGOs for hours on end? At its core, coding isn't really that different in comparison to LEGOs. You build by planning, building, testing, and improving.
So if LEGOs were represented digitally, what would they look like? Something like Minecraft! To no surprise, kids are obsessive over Minecraft. In fact, Minecraft is the best selling game of all time. Why? There are probably a handful of reasons, but one of the core reasons is because Minecraft gives kids the ability to be creative. Kids must harvest resources, build all sorts of structures, and learn to survive. Many teachers are even beginning to use Minecraft in the classroom.
But how would kids write code? Scratch-like coding blocks! Created by MIT's Media Lab, Scratch was created to rid coding of tedium. So Tony and Charles created "Puzzle", something very similar to Scratch, but designed specifically for BlockSchool's 3D Minecraft-esque world.
That is the story of how BlockSchool was founded. We hope you decide to be part of the journey.
We believe that every child should be exposed to coding at a young age, especially if they don't want to become an engineer. Children should think of coding as a fun activity, in the same way that LEGOs are.
A world where every child has been exposed to computer science.