Education Technology

TI Codes Contest: Winning Tips for First-Timers

Posted 01/24/2024 by Erick Archer, TI Science Specialist

An automatic pizza slicer. A communication device for deaf pets. A free-floating robot that sterilizes the International Space Station with ultraviolet light. Whoa! These are just a few inventions designed and built by students for the TI Codes Contest.

For years, students from around the country have coded and built working prototypes of devices to solve real-world problems. They do it all by using simple engineering and coding technology coupled with their TI graphing calculators.

Our 2023 winners built the Can-O-Matic 9000, an automatic trash sorter.

And in 2022, the students of Stiles Middle School built a clever communication device for deaf pets.

After watching the short videos, we can probably guess what you’re thinking ... “That’s great and it looks like they had fun, but my students and I don’t have the knowledge, skills or even the technology. How could we hope to be competitive, let alone enter?”

We’re here to bust some of these common misconceptions and offer tips to those of you who might be entering for the first time.

Dash these doubts:
  • “My student’s won’t engage.”
  • “I don’t code, so I can’t teach it.”
  • “I don’t have the tech.”
  • “I don’t have the time.”

As an educator, you know your students can do hard things. Plus, we’re here to help!

Red Line

Students have spoken — the TI Codes Contest is a win!

One team, made up of the same group students and teacher sponsor, entered for three years in a row. It's common for schools to return and participate year after year. Even during the coronavirus, despite the challenges of a lockdown, teams communicated and worked remotely in order to join in on the fun.

Students love the challenge, the chance to work with friends, and making their ideas come to life.

“My favorite thing about the TI Codes Contest was overcoming the initial problems. The success felt after a hard obstacle is a great feeling.” — NaviGator team student

“My favorite thing about the TI Codes Contest [was] working with friends to create something that can help the world.” — Stiles Middle School

If you’re worried that not all of your students will engage, you may be right and that’s okay. Those who do will go all‑in.

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First, start with coding basics on a TI graphing calculator

Coding on a TI graphing calculator has a long history. In fact, many professional developers and engineers share stories about learning how to code on their TI graphing calculators. Several students on past winning teams also had previous STEM and coding experience.

So it’s no surprise that step one for entering the TI Codes contest is to learn a little coding. If you’re still thinking, “I don’t code, so I can't teach it,” don't worry! You don’t have to be an expert to teach coding basics on a TI graphing calculator.

In fact, your students can start building those skills with our 10 Minutes of Code modules.

These short lessons introduce the basics of coding in just (you guessed it!) 10 minutes. Simply follow along with the premade modules. The series is great for extra credit or even group enrichment projects.

Students just need access to a TI graphing calculator. We recommend a TI-Nspire™ CX, TI‑Nspire™ CX II or TI‑84 Plus CE graphing calculator, but any TI graphing calculator will work!

“Doing small pieces and getting them to work together is key. The code doesn't need to be hundreds of lines long: you can grow it from small successes.” — Team educator

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Next, it’s time to build and play with technology!

It’s time to get students hands-on with a project-building opportunity. How about tasking students with building a digital mood ring, an irrigation system or even a music box?

If you’re saying, “I don’t have the tech!” We hear you. That’s why we created the STEM Projects Pilot Program to help schools get started in STEM. Simply fill out a loan form and your entire class can participate in building working projects using the TI-Innovator™ Hub (TI’s very own microcontroller device), sensors and actuators.

TI will send you a set of graphing calculators, TI-Innovator™ Hubs and project materials to borrow for up to 30 days (while supplies are available). The projects have lesson guides and sample code included, which makes trying this out with your class a breeze.

We suggest getting started with our Digital Mood Ring project. It’s consistently a crowd pleaser and a great starting point.

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Then, practice with skill builders and save time with premade projects

Learning takes time and, sadly, no one has time in a bottle. However, we do have timesaving, premade projects for you and your students.

TI’s Path to STEM Projects introduce electrical engineering concepts such as analog and digital input/output, calibration, and feedback and control. Students learn how to use a breadboard with components such as resistors, LEDs, motors, capacitors and a host of other useful devices. These projects will take student understanding to the next level.

One team, the Germaphobes, used the skills they learned from Path to STEM Projects to create their self-contained sanitation device for use on the International Space Station. They won the contest that year!

We understand you may still think you don’t have the time to participate. With the TI Codes Contest, however, it’s up to you to choose how much (or little) time you want to invest.

“I like how the contest was divided into many stages. That made the load of the work very manageable.” — ThePetSaviors team educator

“ENTER THIS CONTEST! Don’t even worry about ‘What comes next?’ or ‘How will I have time to do the second and third rounds?’ You can get as much or as little out of the contest as you want, and if the only reason you enter is for the first round paragraph writing, that’s still a great reason!” — NaviGator team educator

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Finally, enter your team into the TI Codes Contest!

Every year we have a new theme for the TI Codes Contest. This year’s challenge is: Devise a solution that automates or optimizes a process or product based on the theme “safety and security.”

Be sure to check out this interview with Debbie Moss, the sponsor of the 2023 grand prize winning team, as she shares tips for this year's challenge.

If you are interested in providing STEM and coding experiences for your students but aren’t sure how to get started, reach out to the TI STEM team at We are here to help.

Now, code away!

About the author: Erick Archer is a Market Strategy Manager at Texas Instruments and works with science and STEM teachers in the implementation of TI technology. He is also a former high school science teacher, father of two sons, married to his high school sweetheart and loves baseball.