For thousands of local elementary school students, papier-mâché volcanoes and UV light experiments are the science fair projects of the past.

Instead, it’s all about using computers to program games that anyone can play.

Three thousand Grade 4, 5 and 6 students in Waterloo Region’s public and Catholic schools have learned coding skills at school through a program known as The Learning Partnership.

On Thursday, 120 of those students were able to show off what they’d learned by displaying their games at an arcade – don’t call it a science fair – at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to use the skills that they’ve learned … and create a video game,” said Robert Dalley, the local program manager for The Learning Partnership.

The arcade gave students a chance to show off their games to peers from different schools. Many students seemed more interested in learning what other kids had put together.

“I hope to really learn more from this experience and learn more about other peoples’ games and how they code,” said Ava Aolenback, a Grade 6 student.

Aolenback had designed a game called Falling Stars, in which players have to catch stars and, ultimately, save the world.

“The whole world’s falling apart, and you’ve got to put it back together,” she said.

Ivan Milardovic’s game involves placing towers on a map and trying to keep balloons away from them. He calls it Balloon Tower Defence Nugit.

Milardovic, who is in Grade 5, noted that he was running into an issue where players would have their games end within seconds until he discovered the scripting error causing that to happen.

“Sometimes it can be really simple to make a game, and sometimes it can be really frustrating,” he said.

While many people think of coding as an important skill for students to learn for when they enter the workforce, Dalley argues that the need is much more urgent than that.

“Every job is using some sort of coding,” he said.

“Students need to learn this skill today, not in the future.”

With reporting by Krista Simpson