The game, CodeSpells, has been tested on 40 girls between the ages of 10 and 12 who have never learned programming before.
The researchers reported their findings at the Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education Conference in March. Their finds were also published in the SIGCSE 2013 paper.
According to Jacobs School of Engineering computer scientist William Griswold, it is difficult to teach computer science to students below the college level due to a combination of unqualified instructors and the often frustrating task of engaging students while they cope with the difficulties of programming.
However, the concept of programming and its top-down and bottom-up approaches are becoming more important to students in today’s technology-driven society, according to lead graduate students Sarah Esper and Stephen Foster. Using CodeSpells, the research team hopes to find a way to connect with students.
“We’re hoping that they will get as addicted to learning programming as they get addicted to video games,” Foster said in an article by the UCSD News Center.
The team discovered that within an hour of playing CodeSpells, the girls mastered certain basics of Java and could use their knowledge to make new ways to play the game.
“CodeSpells is the only video game that completely immerses programming into the game play,” Griswold said in a news release.
In CodeSpells, players use programming concepts to help gnomes regain their lost magic by writing spells in Java. In addition, players can go on quests that earn them badges and help them learn the spells.
The researchers will continue to research with elementary students and plan to release the game to educational institutes for free. On April 9, a beta version for Mac users was released on the CodeSpells blogspot. A Windows version will come out in the near future.