Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Computer scientists develop video game that teaches how to program in Java

Date:
April 8, 2013
Source:
University of California - San Diego
Summary:
Computer scientists have developed an immersive, first-person player video game designed to teach students in elementary to high school how to program in Java, one of the most common programming languages in use today. The researchers tested the game on a group of girls who had never been exposed to programming before.

One of the characters in the CodeSpells game environment.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - San Diego

Computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have developed an immersive, first-person player video game designed to teach students in elementary to high school how to program in Java, one of the most common programming languages in use today.

The researchers tested the game on a group of 40 girls, ages 10 to 12, who had never been exposed to programming before. They detailed their findings in a paper they presented at the SIGCSE conference in March in Denver. Computer scientists found that within just one hour of play, the girls had mastered some of Java's basic components and were able to use the language to create new ways of playing with the game.

"CodeSpells is the only video game that completely immerses programming into the game play," said William Griswold, a computer scientist at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

The UC San Diego computer scientists plan to release the game for free and make it available to any educational institution that requests it. Researchers are currently conducting further case studies in San Diego elementary schools.

Teaching computer science below the college level is difficult, mainly because it is hard to find qualified instructors for students in elementary to high school, Griswold said. So he and his graduate students set out to find a way to reach these students outside the classroom. They designed the game to keep children engaged while they are coping with the difficulties of programming, which could otherwise be frustrating and discouraging.

Teaching children how to program must be a priority in a society where technology is becoming more and more important, said Sarah Esper, one of the lead graduate students on the development of CodeSpells. Programming also teaches logical thinking, said Stephen Foster, another lead student.

"We're hoping that they will get as addicted to learning programming as they get addicted to video games," Foster said.

How CodeSpells works

CodeSpells' story line is simple: the player is a wizard arriving in a land populated by gnomes. The gnomes used to have magic, but lost it at some point. The wizard must help them. She (or he) writes spells in Java. Players have seven spells available to them, including levitating objects within the game, flying and making fire.

Players can also earn badges by undertaking simple quests, which help them master the game's spells. One quest entails crossing a river. Another entails rescuing a gnome from the roof of his cottage, where he got stuck. Yet another entails starting a large bonfire. By the time players complete the game's first level, they have learned the main components of the Java programming language, such as parameters, for if statements, for loops and while loops, among other skills.

Testing the game

Researchers tested the game on a group of 40 girls ages 10 to 12 in San Diego. They gave the students a brief overview of the game's mechanics, including how to write and edit code within the game's user interface. The girls were divided in groups of two or three. Researchers encouraged them to explore the game and see what they could do. "We were purposefully vague," they wrote, "as we hoped to encourage a largely unstructured learning environment."

The students were disappointed when they had to stop playing because the test was over. Their interest in the game didn't wane when they made mistakes while writing code. Instead, they used the mistakes as a stepping stone to explore the game's possibilities. For example, one group made the mistake of levitating an object so high into the air that their wizard couldn't reach it. So the girls made their wizard jump onto another object and levitated it high enough to reach the object they were after. The girls also reported feeling empowered. When they encountered a difficulty, they tried different spells and made changes to the code until they solved it.

Computer science learning theory

CodeSpells was influenced by research that Esper and Foster conducted on how successful programmers learn their trade. They surveyed 30 computer scientists and identified five characteristics that are key to learn programming outside a classroom setting: activities must be structured by the person who is trying to learn; learning must be creative and exploratory; programming is empowering; learners have difficulty stopping once they start; and learners spend countless hours on the activity.

Researchers summarized these findings in their SIGCSE 2013 paper, humorously titled "On the Nature of Fires and How to Spark Them When You're Not There."

Esper will present her CodeSpells work April 18 at Research Expo at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - San Diego. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - San Diego. "Computer scientists develop video game that teaches how to program in Java." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408142638.htm>.
University of California - San Diego. (2013, April 8). Computer scientists develop video game that teaches how to program in Java. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408142638.htm
University of California - San Diego. "Computer scientists develop video game that teaches how to program in Java." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408142638.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Computers & Math News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Facebook Wants You To Download Its Messenger App

Why Facebook Wants You To Download Its Messenger App

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Facebook will start requiring users to download a separate Messenger application if they wish to continue using Facebook for mobile messaging. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Teen's Phone Ignites Under Her Pillow; How Real Is The Risk?

Teen's Phone Ignites Under Her Pillow; How Real Is The Risk?

Newsy (July 28, 2014) A Texas teen's Samsung phone apparently ignited while she slept, but what was the real problem here? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Zillow Snaps Up Web Real Estate With Trulia Deal

Zillow Snaps Up Web Real Estate With Trulia Deal

Reuters - US Online Video (July 28, 2014) Zillow's decision to buy rival Trulia is just one step in a continuing string of acquisitions, and Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff is already thinking about his next big deal. Bobbi Rebell reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins