Game design to develop computational thinking
Learners today have the amazing potential to produce their own digital content. But one challenge ahead is to counter a culture where users simply consume digital content rather than engage in the creative process to produce their own.
We need to be firmly focused on enabling the next generation of digital makers and equipping them with the key skill to support that creativity: Computational Thinking.
Computational thinking doesn't just apply to computing scientists or programming professionals. By linking critical thinking skills with the power of computers, computational thinking provides a new way of understanding and describing our world and elements of our daily lives: for instance, breaking down the tasks we have to do today (decomposition), avoiding an accident by recognising possible hazards (pattern recognition), using a diary to organize our time into days and hours (abstraction) or creating a set of instructions for a colleague (algorithm design).
Developing computational thinking through games design.
Games Design is an extremely useful context for developing computational thinking and digital creativity. When learners are introduced to software development at an early age, they need contexts that are familiar. Games present worlds with defined rules, clear objectives and often more than one possible solution to a problem.
As the Education Support Officer for Learning Technologies and ICT at Aberdeen City Council, an initial exercise I use when introducing learners to this area is to look at game rules. What are the rules that games follow? Can you write down those rules? There is a wonderful eureka moment when a learner realizes that aliens in Space Invaders only move down the screen when they touch the side or that Pac-man ghosts use 'line of sight' to see or that the angle of bounce off the bat in Breakout depends on the where the ball touches the bat. Recognising and understanding the rules in any game is a first step to creating your own.
Across Scotland, learners are developing their own games, using a wide variety of tools, at the same time as developing their programming skills: understanding algorithms, events, triggers and other computational constructs. Learners are building games; moving from initial game play (learning about the game) to game analysis (how does it work, what are the rules) through to game development (building your own game from an initial set of rules) and on to complete invention!
Key to the success of computational thinking in games design is the development of a "growth mind-set." The most successful teachers set open goals and provide support that enables learners to realise their own visions of what their games might be. The learner understands that the development of the skill is not about how "smart" he or she is, it's about how hard he or she works. Students learn faster when they make more mistakes and learn from them quicker.
Developing a "growth mind-set" is an important component in realising the potential for computational thinking and digital creativity in our young people. You can see some examples of what learners can achieve when they take this approach on the Consolarium blog: AnEmSha, Islands of Elemental Evil, T. Greep & Co.
To develop this potential needs support
Part of Scotland's ambition to lead on this digital creativity is enshrined in our Curriculum for Excellence, our model for education for learners aged 3 to 18 first introduced in August 2010. As seen in the table below, the Scottish curriculum makes explicit reference to developing digital creativity in a variety of contexts including Games-Based Learning and Games Design:
View larger version
Since 2010, Scotland has supported practitioners to develop skills in games design and digital creativity, initially through the Consolarium project, led by Derek Robertson. The Consolarium created support materials for games design in the classroom and shared best practice through a variety of online channels. Further support was provided at local training events for teachers, where hands on experience was offered. Following these training events the team would visit schools to see the impact of the initiative with learners and to capture practice to share.
This work continues through a variety of initiatives at local and national level including Computing At School (Scotland), Nesta's One Day Digital events (Teacher Edition), CompEdNet and Professional Learning and Networking for Computing (PLAN C), a national development programme funded by Scottish Government to sharpen the skills and update the pedagogy of our Computing Science teachers.
These initiatives are very positive but we need to develop further support, in partnership with the IT Sector, the teaching community and national bodies, to ensure that our teachers are ready to equip the next generation of digital makers and computational thinkers.
Charlie is the Education Support Officer (Learning Technologies (ICT) at Aberdeen City Council
Nesta's games in education blog series seeks to encourage a wider discussion. To share your thoughts, ideas and questions, please comment below or tweet using #gamelearning