Why Game Design Is an Awesome Introduction to Computer Science

Lynn Vanderzyl was new to teaching high school computer science (CS), and she started out in the logical placeteaching a programming course using Visual Basic, Python, and Java. Unfortunately, the course wasn’t engaging her students: “My classes were too small and they dropped my program.” The following year, the course was redesigned with a focus on game design, with students working together to build video games and learn CS in the process. And it worked!

“They are still learning to code but they don’t realize it.” —Lynn Vanderzyl

Student demand for this course was so high that Lynn offered four gaming classes in the first year, and all of them were full. She’s since added two more advanced game programming courses and loves the projects that her students create each year.

Why is game design an awesome introduction to computer science?

As a part of our Computer Science and Professional Development blog series, we asked CS and game design students, teachers, and professionals that question. A few answers showed up consistently:

  • Games make CS relatable.
  • Games help students understand why they’re coding.
  • Games prepare the next generation to shape society.

 

“It’s culturally relevant for kids.”

Before students can learn CS, they have to want to learn to CS. And as Lynn discovered, a love of gaming can draw a lot of different students into a computer lab. Schell Games game designer, Sabrina Culyba, sums up why students get so excited to take a CS course when it is based around gaming:

“It’s culturally relevant for kids. They play games. Their peers play games. By leveraging game design and game creation, you give kids a reason for computer science to be meaningful as an everyday tool that helps them create and express themselves.” Sabrina Culyba

 

Students see the tangible results of their code.

Games are more than just a gateway into CS; they can also serve as long-term learning tools. James Staffen, an undergraduate CS major at Penn State and a former Zulama student, is a big believer in learning CS by designing games. He started programming in high school and knows how challenging the learning process can be.

“When you are coding just to learn coding, you don’t understand what the point of it is. When you are coding to build a game, you can easily see the results of your code, the point of coding, the power of coding.” —James Staffen

Lynn agrees that it is thrilling for students to see the “immediate results” of their code. She adds that this fun experience leads students to want to dig deeper: “Once they get a simple game going they want to add more to it. The only way to add to it is to learn more coding.”

 

 

Game design prepares student programmers to shape society.

What are the bigger-picture implications of learning CS through building games? How do we want the next generation of computer scientists and programmers to think, communicate, and design? Sabrina Culyba explains that games help students develop empathy, a key to using computing skills effectively in the real world.

“Good game design requires you to consider your players—what are you trying to help them feel, understand, achieve? This mindset of designing to meet the needs and desires of others is a critical skill for us to cultivate in students as they grow up to build the next technologies that will shape our society.” —Sabrina Culyba

Sabrina’s point raises the question: What other skills, along with empathy, do student programmers need in order to grow into positive, powerful forces in modern society? At Zulama, we believe that collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity (if we were cooler we’d call them the 4Cs) are vital skills for all students to develop. Traditional CS courses don’t always focus on helping students build those skills. But when students work together to make games, they naturally tap into their creativity, talk to each other, and solve problemsall while learning the principles of computer science.

 

Make Computer Science Part of Your Professional Learning

Over the next few months, we will be sharing all kinds of resources related to Computer Science Professional Development — from stories by teachers and Computer Science Professional Development experts to podcasts, graphics, Facebook Live events, and other fun surprises ;).

This is a conversation and we would love to hear your ideas and feedback along the way! Is there anything in particular about Computer Science (CS) that you’d like to hear about?

We are exploring the intersection of Computer Science and Professional Development to champion CS education and the teachers who bring it to life and to support the launch of our own CS professional learning opportunity.

Computer Science and Game Design for Teachers

From its inception, Zulama has been committed to helping teachers become life-changing mentors to their students and providing teachers with personalized, fun, and rigorous learning opportunities. To that end, we’re SO excited about the launch of our Computer Science and Game Design Professional Development Course and Certificate, created in partnership with the Computer Science Teachers Association.

With the rapid growth of CS-related careers, we want to give all teachers a chance to learn how to bring engaging CS experiences to their students. Our self-paced, interactive course will do just that, and this year we’re aiming to teach 2,000 teachers across the country about the joys of CS and Game Design.

A Bit More about the Course

Our 30-hour professional development course is designed for K-12 Teachers, experienced coders and novices alike. This online course is fun and highly interactive while also being rigorous enough to align with the K-12 CS Framework and the CSTA standards. In the course, teachers will:

  • learn and apply game design principles and programming skills.
  • use industry-standard tools to design and code an original video game and showcase it in their own digital portfolio.
  • interact with other teachers who are learning about and teaching CS.
  • receive a Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, upon completion of the course.

You can learn more about the course and register for it here.

Why CS Matters: The State of CS Education

  • Over 7.7 million Americans use computers in complex ways in their jobs (Change the Equation, 2015).
  • Nearly half of those 7.7 million work in fields that are not directly tied to science, technology, engineering, and math (Change the Equation, 2015).
  • Fewer than half of K–12 schools offer computer science courses with programming included (Google & Gallup, 2016).