Kapaa Middle students place 1st at state science fair

KAPAA — Seventh-graders Isaiah Squire and Tyler Tanaka were challenged by their teacher, Logan Newbill, to think outside the box.

The Kapaa Middle School students were thinking of a project to enter into the 60th annual Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair that would stand out.

Their project caught the eyes of many. But more importantly, it also allowed the visually impaired the chance to marvel at it, too.

“We thought that visually impaired people didn’t really have many entertainment options,” Squire said. “And since technology is so advanced and so many people play video games these days, we thought, ‘Why not make a video game for people who can’t see as well as others?’”

The game is based on the famous arcade game “Asteroids,” in which the player needs to maneuver the spaceship and shoot obstacles in their way. It provided a new avenue of entertainment for people who have trouble seeing by using audio cues, recorded by the two students, to give the player specific instructions what to do.

“We hoped to make a video game to show that even if you’re visually impaired and don’t have that good of eyesight, you can still do things that anyone can do,” Tanaka said.

The project took home five awards at the state science fair, including first place in the junior division for outstanding research in the special awards category.

“We were really surprised,” Tanaka said. “We didn’t expect to win any awards.”

Tanaka and Squire explained their affinity for video games — Tanaka’s favorite game is “Overwatch” and Squire’s is anything sports-related. The idea for the game came to them while speaking with their teacher, who gave them examples of what could be possible if they dedicated themselves to working hard.

“My role was to encourage them to think of a problem that was relevant and inspiring to them,” Newbill said. “I showed them a lot of examples of people in other areas of the world to show them what other people came up with limited resources, so they should be able to do anything. I wanted them to think outside the box and create something that would matter to somebody.”

On top of using audio recording and editing programs like Audacity, the seventh-graders had to learn how to code and program a video game — something Squire said they “learned on the spot.”

“We haven’t done a whole lot of coding in our classes, so they pretty much taught themselves how to build their video game,” Newbill said. “It was a lot of self-directed learning to create this project. We’ve had a couple good showings over the years but these guy took it to the next level. Coming from a little school on a little island to getting that much recognition is very impressive.”

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