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Gidget: A 21st Century Approach to Programming Literacy

Gidget: A 21st Century Approach to Programming Literacy

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.)

About Andrew Ko

Andrew directs the USE research group, which invents technologies such as help systems for end users, debugging tools for developers, and new educational technologies for people learning to program. His interests span human-computer interaction, software engineering, and computing education. He is also the CTO of a startup called AnswerDash, a service that delivers instant answers on e-commerce sites and web applications.

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