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 Tuesday, June 16, 2009 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Middle School teachers put their (video)game face on
by Carol Rowe, College of Engineering and Applied Science and Andri Ioannidou, AgentSheets, Inc.

Parents and teachers have complained for years that kids are more interested in video games than homework. But what if video games were homework? In the first two weeks of June, 30 teachers and community college students from around Colorado and the nation came to CU-Boulder to learn an innovative computer science curriculum called Scalable Game Design. The curriculum was developed locally to turn middle school students from video game consumers to video game designers and get them excited about computer science in the process.

“While the demand for information technology workers in the United States is growing, the supply is dropping at alarming rates,” said Associate Research Professor Alexander Repenning. “At the crucial middle school age many students are concluding that computer science is hard and boring. Scalable Game Design with AgentSheets is an approach balancing educational and motivational concerns of computer science in a way that is attractive to many children, including girls and other underrepresented students.”

Teachers from the Boulder Valley School District, Aurora Public Schools, South Central Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Ignacio on the Ute Reservation in Colorado, and Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota joined students from Aurora Community College, Fort Lewis Community College, Pine Ridge Tribal College and Pueblo Community College. Additionally, the Young People’s Project — a grassroots youth organization dedicated to effective mathematics application and instruction for mentoring young people to realize their maximum potential — sent participants from Boston, Massachusetts.

In the first week of the summer institute, Repenning focused on training the community college students, whose role is to assist middle school teachers in implementing the Scalable Game Design curriculum in their classrooms this fall. The teachers arrived for the second week of the institute, during which they were trained with the community college students in the concepts and practical issues of game design and computational thinking. The focus was then shifted to teaching and evaluating game design, along with community building.

The Summer Institute is part of CU-Boulder’s iDREAMS project, funded by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to bring computer science to diverse middle school classrooms around Colorado. Participants use the Scalable Game Design curriculum and AgentSheets, an award-winning software authoring environment developed at CU-Boulder, to teach middle school students to program complete video games, which builds their basic competencies in computational concepts and problem-solving skills that they can apply in a range of technical careers. The iDREAMS project team involves researchers from the computer science department, School of Education, AgentSheets, Inc., and the Science Discovery and Upward Bound outreach programs.

A second $2.9 million grant to the computer science department from the NSF will focus on integrating computer science into traditional high school and middle school courses, such as biology and physics, to reflect the ubiquity of computing and the revolution it has sparked in different areas of science. Professor Debra Goldberg is the primary investigator on the grant, which will fund 10 graduate fellows to work with K-12 teachers in Boulder Valley, Denver, and St. Vrain Valley schools this fall.

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