The East Vision

Josh Pullen, programming prodigy

Sophomore educates kids across the U.S. with his websites Third Grade Math Games and Rocket Spelling

Lauren Vanden Bosch, Web Editor

When Sophomore Josh Pullen launched his website Rocket Spelling, he had little idea of the immense success it would become. In only a couple months the online educational platform has racked up nearly 7000 students in almost 600 classrooms nationwide.

Similar to sites such as IXL and Quizlet, Rocket Spelling uses fun, interactive, and motivating lessons to teach a thousand basic spelling words to elementary age children. The kid-friendly website is ad-free and signing up for an account only costs three dollars.

Rocket Spelling is the culmination of other smaller projects including thirdgrademathgames.com, which has roughly the same target user group as Rocket Spelling. Instead of teaching spelling words, however, it instructs kids in basic arithmetic concepts.

“There’s one second grade teacher in South Carolina who actually contacted me and said that he’s using the site to teach his students,” Pullen said. “He said that he’s had them look at my code before and see how the site works and also play the games to learn some math.”

The way he has been impacting these kids is not lost on Josh. He called Rocket Spelling his “most useful” endeavor. However, it was also his most challenging. He rejected the idea of using an online editor in favor of taking the most difficult route of coding the entire website by himself, knowing the benefits.

“At the end of the day, typing out your own code is generally the best way to get the full customizability that you want,” Pullen said.

In result, the project took over a year of work and required multiple programming languages in its execution, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Python.

“When you’re programming, the first ninety percent takes fifty percent of the time and the other ten percent takes the other fifty percent of the time,” Pullen said. “You’re never done and it always takes longer than you think it’s going to.”

Determination and persistence to complete the project was his biggest challenge.

“About of a tenth of the way into Rocket Spelling I thought to myself, ‘I’ve kinda thought this through and I kinda know what this site is going to be, and I’m bored now,’” Pullen said. “But, you keep on pushing through it and you encounter some interesting challenges which can actually make it more fun.”

 

Throughout all of his online interactions, Josh is known most of all for his friendliness and willingness to help others. One of the major ways he does this is through his account on the programming website Scratch. For the last six years, Josh has shared his coding knowledge with his followers, which now number in the three thousands. He’s anonymous, but he’s well loved.

“I’ve done some videos and tutorials on my YouTube channel and also just talked to people via my profile on Scratch about how to actually program,” Pullen said.

Looking past Scratch and Rocket Spelling, Josh is excited to wrestle with and potentially solve the challenges of the future to help people around the world.

“Everything related to programming moves so quickly that it’s impossible to predict what will be the next big thing,” he said. “Ten years ago smartphones were hardly even a thing and now if you’re an app developer you’re late to the game. One thing in the near future that I’d like to learn about that I haven’t gotten into yet would be artificial intelligence and machine learning and trying to get a computer to learn things on its own based on data that you feed it. But for me to try to predict what I want to do as a job down the road is just not really something you can attempt to do.”

For now, however, Josh continues to think of ideas for websites that don’t exist yet and attempt to bring them into reality. When he sees a need in the world that can be met with a site, he begins to work. Like Rocket Spelling, however, the hardest part for him is completing them.

“I have a Google document filled with ideas I want to make,” Pullen said. “It’s hard to sit down and actually finish one of them because I’ve got twenty-five other things I want to start.”

One of these “twenty-five other things” is an idea to execute Josh’s mission of making programming knowledge more easily obtainable and accessible to everyone. Scratch was the stepping stone which began his incredible journey from coding amateur to near professional; he wants to provide a similar stepping stone to reach and engage more people.

“There are a lot of tutorials to help you extend your knowledge, but there’s not a lot for complete beginners,” Pullen said. “I started out by just googling around, and it took a while to be able to do anything interesting.”

A website where you could build your own sites with real programming languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript would accomplish this, but it would also be a difficult task to create. It would be a site like Scratch, where Josh got his start ― a safe and supportive environment that allows the user to experiment with the essential concepts of programming without getting frustrated with small errors.

“One of the tricky things about frontend development is there is so much syntax to memorize,” Pullen said. “I’d like to make something that can coach you along and let you quickly create the ideas you’ve got in your mind.”

He also knows from his experience with Scratch how crucial an online community is to the maturation of a programmer.

“There are already online editors, but they’re just for developers and seasoned professionals,” Pullen said. “There aren’t a lot of communities to help people learn.”

Even though Josh is eager for everyone to experience programming on some level, he appreciates people’s different passions and interests.

“Coding isn’t necessarily going to be for everybody,” Pullen said. “I do like the idea of having a programming class but not to push it on everyone as something you must learn like reading or writing. I would never get into painting, for example. I’ve tried it, and I’m glad I did, but it’s not something that I would love.”

The truth is, not all of us have to become programmer extraordinaries like Josh. Josh uses his passion to help others and, with our own different and unique passions, we can do the same.

Read our full interview with Josh here.

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Josh Pullen, programming prodigy