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Using GameMaker to Spark an Interest in CS

In my work with middle school students, I feel that it is my responsibility to expose my students to as many topics as possible. It is my hope that by exposing them to a variety of topics, these students will find some that interest them to continue with during high school and even beyond.

Last spring, I was introduced to GameMaker. This application is a great way to integrate computer science and the making of games. GameMaker allows students to create games in a manner similar to Scratch. GameMaker uses a drag and drop method to create the code for students to make their own games. Just like Scratch, GameMaker has its own community environment in the form of a Web site. In the Web site, one can find tutorials, documentation, a wiki and other resources. Best of all, GameMaker is a free download and can be downloaded from:

www.yoyogames.com.

I think that GameMaker is a great resource to use to get students interested in computer science and to introduce them to the art of reading code and learning about other computer science concepts. I would love to hear about your experience with GameMaker or other introductory computer science applications.

Dave Burkhart
CSTA Board of Directors
K-8 Representative

Comments

I teach in the Montgomery County Public Schools, at the secondary level. I've taught Computer Science (or what's interpreted as Computer Science) for nearly 8 years at the same school, which is a high-performer. Four years ago, I co-authored a course that used Game Maker to introduce CS concepts, among other instructional objectives.

Because Computer Science is neither a required content nor is it required for graduation, we have to fight for every student we can get into our classrooms. It was hoped that such a course would increase enrollment by sparking interest in some traditionally under-represented communities.

After two years of running this course I found:

1) No women registered for the course the second year ---in spite of our efforts to keep it clean of nonsensical violent games, etc.
2) No student registered for that course pursued another course in the CS curriculum. Before you conclude that this was on account of my teaching, I have regularly recruited from other courses.

You'd think this a no-brainer. The problem, as I saw it, was the expectations of students taking an elective course in "game creation" are very different from students wishing to complete the AP coursework and beyond while still in HS.

For what it's worth, that course lives, but not at my school. Instead, it is only offered as part of a "program" (these are 4 course sequences) in those schools that offer the "program" in multimedia studies. And guess what? Not one student from any of those programs has ever majored in Computer Science upon graduation (or not one that has ever been brought to my notice).

I had a recent visit from some students who graduated during that time period, by the way. Some of them had also taken my AP classes, etc., and they observed that they felt as unwelcome and unappreciated tutors in those games classes, which they took because they enjoyed my classes in general.

Of course, your results may vary.

Regards,

Tom R.

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