Can Middle-Schoolers use Storytelling Alice to Make Games ... linda/pubs/ آ  Storytelling Alice (SA)

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  • Can Middle-Schoolers use Storytelling Alice to Make Games? Results of a Pilot Study

    Linda W erner Assoc. Researcher & Lecturer in CS

    1156 High Street MS: SOE3 UCSC, Santa Cruz 95064

    001 831 427 2076

    Jill Denner, Michelle Bliesner, & Pat Rex

    ETR Associates 4 Carbonero Way

    Scotts Valley, CA 95066 001 831 438 4060

    jilld, michelleb,

    ABSTRACT In this paper we share experiences from two 2-week summer courses for middle-school students in game programming using Storytelling Alice (SA). The students spent 20 hours learning SA and creating their own ‘games’ alone and in pairs. We discuss problems and preliminary findings regarding game programming by middle-school students. Our findings suggest that middle-school students can use SA to make games, and that this activity can be used to build information technology fluency.

    Categories and Subject Descriptors K.3.2 [Computers and Education]: Computer and Information Science Education–computer science education, literacy

    General Terms Languages.

    Keywords Middle-school, pair programming, Storytelling Alice, IT fluency.

    1. INTRODUCTION The ubiquitous use of computers and other electronic devices by middle-school students builds many aspects of information technology (IT) literacy. However, in order to adapt to rapidly evolving information technologies, today’s students need to be more than IT literate. Learning and working in all disciplines now requires them to be IT fluent; that is, they need to develop the capacity to think systematically and creatively with technology. In 2007, the International Society for Technology in Education released the National Educational Technology Standards [11] about what K-12 students should know and be able to do with technology. They emphasize the importance of creative thinking and innovation - using technology to learn rather than learning to

    use technology. They also describe the importance of critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making using digital tools. But the related concepts and skills (algorithmic thinking, programming, modeling, and abstraction) are generally taught only in computer science courses, which attract a limited number and type of students, and are rare in K- 12 settings. We believe the creation of IT, not just the use of IT, provides the opportunity for a range of students to make invaluable IT fluency gains for these fundamental concepts, and many other IT fluency aspects [18]. In 1999 the National Research Council (NRC) defined IT fluency [16] by taking IT literacy and adding to it the ability to independently learn and use new information technologies as they develop. Their definition of IT fluency also states that algorithmic thinking, programming, modeling, and abstraction be used to solve problems because these concepts provide the basis for students to build their understanding of new information technologies. These four concepts are fundamentals of any computer science curricula and are basic to most introductory programming courses at the high school and university level. The widely used NRC model of IT fluency was developed for college students, so little is known about what IT fluency looks like in middle-school. The Computer Science Teachers Association in its Model Curriculum report [4] makes suggestions about appropriate topics and goals for the middle-school years. They state “(w)e believe with teachers who believe that students at this age ought to begin thinking algorithmically as a general problem- solving strategy… Thus it makes sense to develop more teaching strategies that encourage students to engage in the process of visualizing an algorithm. Seymour Papert’s pioneering experiments in the 1980s corroborate the belief … of how K-8 students can be engaged in algorithmic thinking” (page 9). However, the 6-8 grade level breakdown does not specifically identify outcomes for engaging students with algorithmic thinking, modeling, and abstraction and these topics do not enter the grade level breakdowns until the high school years. Previous research suggests that making a game may engage students in IT fluency by increasing motivation and engaging students in critical thinking and problem solving. The motivation comes from the popularity of gaming and the excitement of making a unique game that others can play. Others have found that students are motivated to problem solve in order to make their games meet their design goals [17]. According to Gee [10], in the modern age, we need ways to help students “think like game designers.” Salen [19]

    Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. ICFDG, April 26–30, 2009, Orlando, Florida, USA. Copyright 2009 ACM 978-1-60558-437-9…$5.00.

  • describes what this looks like when she says, “Knowing how to put together a successful game involves system-based thinking, iterative critical problem solving, art and aesthetics, writing and storytelling, interactive design, game logic and rules, and programming skills” (p. 305). Game programming challenges students to think in certain ways: as opposed to multimedia design, it offers opportunities to engage in a representational form of computer literacy [9]. Making games requires students to make explicit their assumptions about what makes a good game [13] because they need to think about how the player will interact with the game, the outcomes of player action, and the goal of the game. By goal of the game we refer to how the player can win or lose the game. For six years we have been involved in teaching middle- school girls and boys to create games using pair programming. Our research on pair programming at the university level has been recognized by the National Center for Women in Information Technology as helpful for the retention of women in university computer science programs [2]. Our findings suggest that game design in pairs has real promise for promoting IT fluency in middle-school, and we have published the results of that work in several places [3, 5, 7, 8, 21, 22, 23, 24]. However, there were limitations to the programming environments that were used. We found that Flash with actionscripting was too difficult for this age group to use independently and Stagecast Creator was not visually appealing to the students because the animations, videos, and games they created were only 2-dimensional. We decided to extend our research on game creation by using Storytelling Alice (SA) because it offers opportunities for students to engage in key programming concepts while creating very appealing 3-dimensional movies, stories, and games. Storytelling Alice (SA) is similar to Alice, but was designed to engage younger children by offering higher level animations [15]. There are additional characters (e.g., fairies and typical school students) and additional pre-programmed behaviors (e.g., dancing, kissing, and talking) that appeal to middle- school students. During the summer of 2008, we ran two courses that were not part of a controlled study, but instead were part of an NSF- funded feasibility study to determine if middle-school children can use SA and pair programming to create computer games. Specifically, we were looking for answers to the following questions: • Can SA be used by middle-school students to make

    games? • Does game programming with SA support the

    development of IT fluency?

    2. METHOD 2.1 Participants During the summer of 2008, we conducted courses for middle- school girls and boys in game programming using pair programming and SA. These two 2-week courses ran simultaneously for two hours each weekday; one was located at a community center in a small city surrounded by a large agricultural area, and the other was run at a Boys and Girls Club in a small city. Participation was voluntary and free, and students were recruited by club and center staff from existing membership lists and nearby schools.

    We started our courses with 43 student participants and two seasoned middle school teachers. Of the 43 starting participants, 33 participants completed the pre-course survey. Twenty-eight participants completed the course, and 22 participants completed both the pre-course and post-course surveys. Table 1 gives details of these 22 participants.

    Table 1. Details of Participants

    Boys 12 Girls 10 Mean age 11.5 years Age range 10-13 years Modes 11 and 12 (8 each) Grades entering next year 6th 11

    7th 9 8th 2

    English spoken at home Only 6 Mostly 2 Half of the time 13 Infrequently 1

    Most frequently spoken at home other language


    Ethnicity Hispanic or Latino 15 White or Caucasian 6 African American 2 Didn’t answer 1

    Ever written a program before this course

    Yes 2

    Never 15 Didn’t know 3 Didn’t answer 2

    Computer at home Yes 14 No 7 Didn’t answer 1

    2.2 Procedure One of the instructors is a regular classroom teacher with many years of experience using technology instruction, but little prior knowledge of SA. The other instructor had prior SA and Alice knowledge and is a teacher of technology classes to grades K-12, including animation, computer literacy, digital storytelling, digital photography, electronics, and clay animation. Their training for our program involved a two-hour meeting in which they learned about the research goals and the instructional approach, as well as four hours of self-di