Using Storytelling to Teach CS Principles


The National Science Foundation has funded the Advancing Informal STEM Learning project , “The Role of Story in Games to Teach Computer Science Concepts to Middle School Girls”. Dr. Elisabeth Gee of Arizona State University is the project PI; Professor Carolee Stewart is the Kean University co-PI and Gail Carmichael of Carleton University is also a co-PI. Kean University will receive about $75,000 in funding.

The team will design a game called “Gram’s House”, an online, collaborative educational puzzle game designed to teach Computer Science principles to middle school girls. The central character is a young girl who wants to assist her elderly grandmother in remaining at home despite her increasing physical limitations; to do so, she must solve a number of problems requiring computational thinking.

Gram’s House is the focus of an ongoing collaboration among a team of researchers at three universities, three of whom are the key partners in the current NSF-funded project:

Early work on this project was supported with a Kean 2012 Students partnering with Faculty (SpF) award to Professor Stewart and her team of three students. The SpF research resulted in a journal article published in the Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges with all three students as co-authors.

Research on learning and games suggests that stories may help learners adopt an identity and feel part of a field’s academic activities. A story’s structured progression of events can be used to ensure problems are well-ordered. A story setting might be able to give context to information needed on demand, but a story could help control the flow of information so it is not only just in time, but also more deeply meaningful. Essentially, while the context of a story setting may help situate educational content, a story can do so in a more structured and meaningful way.

Well-designed games can engage players in active and sustained learning, allow them to take on and play with new identities, promote situated understanding of new concepts, and provide experiences that can serve as a basis for later reflection and assessment.

The project focuses on identifying the optimal combination of games, setting, and story to teach Computer Science concepts and to support the development of computational thinking and prepare students for future learning in Computer Science.