Teaching Computer Science and Computational Thinking with Community Gaming

National Science Foundation has awarded SMU Researchers: Corey Clark, Ph.D., Leanne Ketterlin Geller, Ph.D. and Eric Larson, Ph.D. a $1,521,615 (Award Number: 1933848) 4 year grant to research teaching computer science and computational thinking via Minecraft.

leftIntegrating computing into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education at the K-12 level is critical to creating a competitive, innovative workforce that is capable of the computational thinking needs of the future. Efforts to increase intrinsic interest in math and data science have proven difficult to apply evenly across gender, race, and socio-economic factors. This research project will assist in creating a more stable, ethical, and inclusive data science workforce by broadening the interest in data science to a more diverse population of students. This research spans the fields of game design, human computer interaction, machine learning, curriculum design and educational assessment by integrating STEM+C based curriculum directly into “Minecraft”. It advances the knowledge in game-based learning by building on techniques and experiences from commercial game design. The game and infrastructure produced through this research will serve as a vital computing resource for middle and high school educators that will be sustained beyond the current project.

right A key initiative of STEM+C is to cultivate the skills for the next generation of data scientists, information scientists, and engineers in our nation. Video games provide a technique to engage the next generation of students in a fun and intuitive manner. Games are developed around fundamental activities, or gameplay atoms, which reflect the experiential learning process through a trial and error in-game conveyance/feedback loop. These atoms are combined in multiple unique ways with slight variations to form a group of related activities often referred to as “game mechanics” or “game systems”. Game mechanics are linked together to perform action loops, which are often nested into primary, secondary, and tertiary loops. This research will integrate curriculum that aligns with education standards such as Common Core Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-M), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS-2013), Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA-2017), and California Computer Science Content Standards (CACS-CS 2019) into the successful loops found in “Minecraft”. These loops contain game mechanics that have shown to engage a large demographic of players across age, gender, race, and socio-economic factors. This project uses design-based research methodology to iteratively develop and refine the “Minecraft” mod through meaningfully integrating feedback from educational stakeholders, including teachers and students. Key outcomes from engaging in gameplay that are assessed include changes in students’ interest, attitudes, beliefs, and self-efficacy in STEM+C, engagement in collaborative open-ended solution making, and achievement in related computing and mathematics concepts.

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