Over the past two years, iSchool Ph.D. student Mike Lee has been working on Gidget, a game designed to teach computer programming concepts to kids and teens through debugging puzzles. Gidget is now available for anyone to play at www.helpgidget.com. Give it a try!
The game takes a very different approach than existing learning technologies for programming. Rather than trying to motivate kids through creativity (as in Scratch and Alice), provide instruction through tutorials (like Kahn Academy and Codecademy), or inject programming into traditional game mechanics (as in CodeCombat or LightBot), Gidget attempts to translate programming itself into a game by providing a sequence of puzzles for learners to solve. The game aims to teach players that computers are not omniscient, flawless, and intelligent machines, but rather fast, reliable, and mostly ignorant machines that can solve problems. The game’s goal is not necessarily for players to learn to code (though this does happen), but to teach players that programmers can inject software with their own magic.
This work is part of a much larger national conversation about programming and digital literacy. The basic observation, which many have noted over the past two decades, is that professional programmers aren’t the only people who program. Anyone who has to manipulate large volumes of information is at some point going to write a program. Gidget is explicitly designed to give anyone with an interest in knowing more about programming, the confidence they need to learn more.
Try the game yourself. Share it with your kids. If you teach a computer science class, give it to your students as their first assignment. Feel free to send the creators feedback in the game directly.
(Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on Bits and Behavior, iSchool Assistant Professor Andrew Ko’s blog.)