A program designed at the University of Colorado Boulder to teach kids to code using video games is being introduced into New York City public schools as part of an initiative to give every student access to computer science education.
Scalable Game Design is a program developed over two decades by CU-Boulder computer science Professor Alexander Repenning to spark an interest in coding among kids by allowing them to design and build their own video games. The idea behind the program, which uses drag-and-drop programming tools, is to combat the widely held notion that computer programming is hard and boring, said Repenning.
“In the context of creating their own games, students are not only incredibly excited but they also learn sophisticated concepts of math and science in ways that would be very difficult with traditional teaching approaches,” Repenning said.
The Scalable Game Design curriculum, built by CU-Boulder and funded by the National Science Foundation, is frequently used in Colorado middle schools. Its popularity has begun to spread across the country and internationally. Now, Repenning and his team have been invited to partner with the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC), a nonprofit launched in 2013 to ensure that all of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students in 1,700 schools have access to computer science education.
“This is an amazing opportunity to reach a large number of students,” Repenning said. “There’s a great energy right now that people really want to take computer science education seriously, and we think this initiative has great potential.”
Repenning and his team will kick off a pilot program in New York City this week. During the July 31-Aug. 1 workshop, 40 New York City teachers who teach a diverse range of students will participate in Scalable Game Design training funded by CSNYC.
“We are excited to be expanding our computer science offerings at CSNYC through programs like Scalable Game Design,” said Leigh Ann DeLyser, CSNYC program manager. “We hope to encourage all students in NYC public schools to think of themselves as not just users of technology, but the next generation of creators and makers.”
Participants will learn how to support the students as they build the video games and how to provide children with the tools they need just when they need it. The Scalable Game Design Curriculum encourages teachers to steer away from lecturing, and instead, allow students to explore on their own until they hit a roadblock and ask to learn the skill that will help them continue to progress.
The tools that the students will use to create the video games are called AgentSheets and AgentCubes. Last fall, Repenning and his team launched an online version of AgentCubes that anyone can try as part of the global “Hour of Code” event, which sought to recruit 10 million schoolchildren to try coding for one hour during the second week of December. During that week, about 250,000 people worked on their own video games using AgentCubes online at http://hourofcode.com/ac.