One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Friday, October 5, 2012

Gaming and Mathematics: A Cross Curricular Event (Get Your Game On)

This is a post about Gaming and Mathematics: A Cross Curricular Event (Get Your Game On), a panel at Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, October 2012 in Baltimore, MD.

Sharon Jones, teacher
Renada Poteat
Beth Frierson


  • Common core overview
  • What is BYOB? (The gaming software)
  • After school workshop showcase
  • How to build a BYOB guessing game
  • Relating common core back to the workshop
Beth: There has been a big push in K-12 education to include a common core type of activity in STEM fields, including computer science. In doing common core training, we had brainstorming sessions where we investigated combining concepts in one class to another, so students can better relate what we are trying to teach them. Because CS and Math are so closely related, we decided to bridge the gap between these two related fields. We produced a review game for math, so that the math students could review for their final exams with it.

The benefit of math ability to academic performance in college computer science programs was confirmed in this study (Fan 2002)

RenadaBuild Your Own Blocks (BYOB) is an advanced version of Scratch, but lets you build your own function and blocks in an object-oriented way. Students learn to solve problems

Sharon: We have been working on a CS curriculum called "The Beauty and Joy of Computing." A few different colleges have picked it up.  At UNCC we wanted to take the college-level curriculum and scale it down to high school students. We wanted students to take something away from the three-day after-school workshop that they could call theirs. Also we gave them snacks.
  • Day 1: Pre-survey; play math games; begin BYOB
  • Day 2: Learn BYOB; start creation of math games
  • Day 3: Complete math game; play games; take post-survey
The questions were actual questions that we got from the math teachers, came from the curriculum and helped them prepare for their final exam. Students were very excited about computer programming, even if they had never interacted with computers before.
"I don't know how to create a computer game, and I came into the workshop to learn how to make a computer game." (TJ, football player)
Of the 20 participants in the workshop, 100% of the students did not know how to use BYOB or what it was. Also 100% of the participants agreed with "I am sure I can learn programming." UNCC students taught the workshop.

"It's not half-bad. I'm actually enjoying the creation of this. It's also a lot simpler than VisualBasic." (Aaron)

Now, we're going to call Antonio via Skype. Antonio learned BYOB and taught it to the other students.

Antonio: BYOB is a really good software. It's not complex; it's essentially drag and drop. It's a software you can use inside or outside of class. The students really adapted to what they were given. The whole concept of BYOB is a good foundation.

Questions for Antonio

Q: What does Antonio plan on doing after graduation?

Antonio: Attend East Carolina or UNCG to major in computer science.

Q: Have you used BYOB for areas other than gaming?

Antonio: You can use it as a tool to model mathematics. You can use BYOB for things other than entertainment.

Sharon: The whole concept of BYOB is for gaming.

Q: Have you used BYOB since the workshop?

Antonio: Yes, I programmed an algebra game for the algebra team; the teacher wants to see if we can use it again this year and see if I can make a game for geometry.

Q: Has BYOB inspired you to learn other languages?

Antonio: I am open to all languages. I will make things happen with all languages.

Renada: One of our students used BYOB to make a flash card language learning program to teach Haiti to English. So that's another way to use BYOB without making a game.

[ End call ]

Sharon: Antonio has begun to see the full circle as we've taught him different levels of programming

Beth: Learning programming through BYOB fosters critical thinking skills. Antonio has grown from an introverted person to the chair of the homecoming committee and helping with the prom. The knowledge this gives them is more than just academic.

Sharon: Post survey questions were all positive! Everyone enjoyed the workshop and found it useful.

Renada: I wanted to run a quick demonstration and give you an idea of how BYOB works.

[ Demo of prompting user for name ]

Sharon: Sounds are also really cool.

[ Demo of adding "Got Inspiration" song ]

Sharon: The kids really liked this game. [ Game with Alonso following the mouse cursor and being eaten by fire-breathing dragon.]

[ Handout of the Algebra Guessing Game tutorial ]

Beth: A computer is like a man. You have to tell it what to do, and you have to be very precise. For Valentine's Day I teach a matchmaking game. We use CS Unplugged, having students write directions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We have class debate on current events related to technology. We use GEO boards, which are building blocks using shapes.  We storyboard the program that they're working on to draw up algorithms they need to implement. We ask the students to write an editorial article to their local newspaper or technology journal. And we have students blog on specific thematic content.

Sharon: For some sports (e.g., NASCAR) the fanbase is shrinking because they're not engaging students. We had students write letters.

Q: Can we access the algebra game online?

Q from Leanda: You guys are selling yourself short. There is an entire modeling strand in the common core. Science teachers could really apply the National Academy common core standards much better. For example, recursion is an Algebra I standard. Writing journals is nice but let's be specific. Let's focus on the math skills specifically. 

Sharon: This is pilot work. It was hard to get this far.

Beth: We have a STEM team at our school that teaches forensics. We are working on other concepts as well and working to get the curriculum up to date.

Q: You are working on getting a CS course. If you were to do that, would you use BYOB or other formal languages?

Sharon: We're using principles from a pilot project from five college called the Beauty and Joy of Computing. BYOB is one of the platforms. We're going to do GameMaker, App Developer, Alice, and web development. We did a little bit in Photoshop (even though it isn't a language). We will talk about artificial intelligence in conjunction with FIRST robotics.

Beth: We will also teach Visual Basic (.NET) and entrepreneurial courses so that students can make their websites e-commerce ready.

Q: What about visual arts as a mathematics theme? I also do a workshop with similar results, but my observation is that I am attracting mostly boys that are all excited by games and computer science already. How do you recruit people that aren't necessarily in that demographic?

Beth: We struggle with that. We tried to do a weekend workshop to try to get girls in. You have to do a song and dance and feed them and have t-shirts and try to tie in how technology affects them on a daily level..

Sharon: We want to do a workshop that is girl focused (girl power). I try to promote NCWIT in my classes in particular. That has worked really well. There's an article in Glamour magazine that ran in October of last year. I've given it to every girl and that seems to work. Glamour does blogs about fashion and they say, "Oh, I can do that."

Q from Miko: My question is related. There was a successful Kickstarter called Goldiblocks that found that narrative is really strong with young girls -- that's what they're interested in. Do you see girls making different things and what are they making?

Renada: The girls would use it more to make plays or sketch out a scene, change the backgrounds, and tell a story. The boys wanted to create war and warcraft.

Sharon: Mine loved the music. They would play songs. They liked the idea of changing the color. But I agree that it's about plays, there's lots of color and flowers. That's what I like too. But then you go next door and "BAM!" and then a red screen.

Miko: Your experience supports that.

Sharon: We took the Alice course. One of the things the instructor said is that Alice works well with girls because it's more about narrative (it's not so much about the killing and the warcraft). It's more like a play stage.

Audience member: We have a girls camp and boys camp for middle-schoolers. We used Alice. The boys did shoot-em-ups and the girls did stories.

Miko: You could do choose-your-own adventure. Like a book.

Q: As a parent, I think it's great that you teachers are doing this. I've come across a discrepancy between younger teachers who are really trying to do this stuff, and older teachers that are resistant to it. How should I get involved?

Sharon: That's my dissertation work. The majority of teachers is over 40. What I have found is that if you can show a teacher one element -- one thing -- that they incorporate in their curriculum then they will reach out to you asking if you have other ideas. I once had 25 e-mails from teachers: "Can you show me that again? Do you have any other tips?" SlideRocket. Prezzi. PuppetPals. The kids were ecstatic about it. It's gotta be free, though. The other problem is that we teachers can be blocked from downloading things, so it should be free and in the cloud.


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