Education Technology

Tips for First-Timers Entering the TI Codes Contest

Posted 03/09/2021 by Erick Archer, TI Science Specialist

Have you heard of the TI Codes Contest? Perhaps you have seen some of the videos from previous contest submissions and thought that it looked fun, but you or your students didn’t have the knowledge or skills to be competitive. I’m here to bust any misconceptions about our annual contest and provide some tips to those of you who might be entering for the first time.

For background: Every year, students from around the country participate in the annual TI Codes Contest by building and coding working prototypes of devices to solve some kind of real-world problem (big or small). We’re talking everything from an automatic pizza slicer to a free-flying robot that uses ultraviolet light to sterilize the International Space Station.

Get inspired by checking out some of the finalist videos from last year’s competition:

Screenshots from the Internal Energy and Work activity
This is a look at some of the finalists from the 2020 TI Codes Contest. The challenge was to create a design that could improve life on the International Space Station.

Many of the students on the winning teams have had previous STEM and coding experience. But what if students don’t have that experience but still want to participate in the contest? We recommend students start building those skills with small projects and experiences using many of the free resources Texas Instruments (TI) has to offer.

Step 1
Step one is to learn a little coding. To do this, students will need access to a TI graphing calculator (preferably a TI-Nspire™ CX, TI-Nspire™ CX II or TI-84 Plus CE graphing calculator). But any TI graphing calculator will work! If a student doesn’t have a calculator, check with your school’s principal to see if they can lend calculators to interested students.

Once students have a graphing calculator, encourage them to check out 10 Minutes of Code. These short lessons introduce students to the basics of coding in — you guessed it — 10 minutes and help build understanding of math concepts.

Screenshots from the Internal Energy and Work activity
Students can code in TI-Basic using any TI graphing calculator. Students with a TI-Nspire™ CX II graphing calculator can code in Python, a language almost every developer needs to learn.

Step 2
Step two is to provide students with a project-building opportunity. We recommend filling out a loan form at Simply click on the red Get Started Now! button to sign your entire class up to participate in building working projects using the TI-Innovator™ Hub with TI LaunchPad™ Board (TI’s microcontroller device), sensors and actuators. TI will send you 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 which makes trying this with your class a breeze. I suggest getting started with our Digital Mood Ring project as it’s consistently a crowd pleaser.

Step 3
Ready to take it up notch? Students can try expanding their programming skills using TI’s Path to STEM projects which introduce electrical engineering concepts such as analog and digital input/output, calibration, and feedback and control. Learn how to use a breadboard with components such as resistors, LEDs, motors, capacitors and a host of other useful devices. Check it out!

Screenshots from the Internal Energy and Work activity
There are six activities in TI’s Path to STEM project series which are appropriate for middle to high school STEM and coding novices.

Last year’s winning team, the Germaphobes, put together several of the skills from the Path to STEM projects. They built a self-contained sanitation device for use on the International Space Station using a TI-Nspire™ CX graphing calculator, a TI-Innovator™ Hub, motors, LEDs and motion detectors. And the students were all from different states and had never met one another — an impressive barrier to overcome. Will your students be the next Germaphobes?

Screenshots from the Internal Energy and Work activity
The Germaphobes were the first team in TI Codes Contest history to be geographically isolated from one another and yet still designed an amazing project. Your students can too!

If you are interested in providing STEM and coding experiences for your students but aren’t sure how to get started, please reach out to the TI STEM team at We are here to help and can provide suggestions, guidance, loaner equipment and online resources at no cost to you.

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.