Video Game Helps Students Learn Java
April 11, 2013

CodeSpells First-person Player Video Game Teaches Kids How To Program In Java

[ Watch the Video: Introducing CodeSpells ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

University of California computer scientists have developed a way to help students learn how to program in Java.

The researchers developed a first-person player video game designed to help students in elementary through high school to program in one of the most common languages used today.

They tested the game on a group of 40 girls between the ages 10 to 12 who had never been exposed to programming before, and wrote about their findings in a paper presented at the SIGSCE conference in March. They found that within an hour, the girls mastered some of Java's basic components and were able to use the language to create new ways of playing with the game.

CodeSpells is the only video game that completely immerses programming into the game play,” said William Griswold, a computer scientist at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

In the gameplay, the player is a wizard arriving in a land populated by gnomes, which is a group who used to have magic powers but lost it. The wizard has to help gnomes by writing spells in Java. Players have seven spells available to use, including levitating objects within the game, flying and making fire.

Players can earn badges by undertaking quests, which helps them master the game's spells. Once players have completed the game's first level, they have learned the main components of Java, such as parameters, for if statements, for loops and while loops.

The team gave students in the study a brief overview of the game's mechanics, including how to write and edit code within the game's user interface. The girls were divided into groups of two or three, and the team encouraged them to explore the game and see what they could do.

In one scenario in the study, a group of girls programmed an object to levitate too high, so they made their wizard jump onto another levitated object so the wizard could reach the first object they were after. When teams would encounter difficulty in the game, they would try different spells and make changes to the code until they solved it.

“We´re hoping that they will get as addicted to learning programming as they get addicted to video games,” said Stephen Foster, a researcher on the project.

The researchers say they plan to release the game for free and make it available to any educational institution that requests it. They are currently working on further case studies in San Diego elementary schools.