The Learning Games: Teaching Code Through Games

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Remember when you were learning how to type on a computer keyboard? I bet you played a game, or several, to hone your skills and learn how to type faster, am I right? Well improving your typing skills isn’t the only thing learning games are used for. Learning games are powerful tools that can be used to hone coding skills as well as develop new ones, even in younger audiences. In fact, it’s a growing trend! For the past 2 years there has been a boom in programs that promote coding education for youth, whether it be for a summer or an extracurricular activity. So it stands to reason that learning games for the subject would follow a similar trend. After all, what better way to teach youth than through a game? Now I won’t cover the entire history of gaming in education, or give an in-depth analysis on this growing trend, but I will take a brief trip down memory lane, shed some candle light over the coding trend, and go over some key teaching programs and games that have hit the interwebs. Because we all know that you’re only interested in this article for the games anyways 😉

Brief History of Learning Games

Games have been used to teach a wide range of knowledge that would otherwise be uninteresting to children throughout history. Since the history of learning games covers such a vast amount of history, I’ll only touch on some key facts that lead to the well-known medium of computer learning games.

  • In the Middle Ages, chess was used to teach noblemen the strategies of war.
  • In 1779, kindergarten was created based on the premise of integrating learning through games and play.
  • Psychologists throughout history, such as Jean Piaget, have further encouraged learning through games, connecting the development of moral judgement in children to learning to understand rules in a game.
  • With the creation of technology, blended learning came into play. A formal education program in which students learn (at least in part) through digital or online content and instruction, blended learning combines the traditional brick-and-mortar teaching method with computer-mediated activities.

Blasts From the Past

Though blended learning took off in the 1960’s, computer-based learning games didn’t really take off until the 1980’s. These games taught the fundamentals of education ranging from teaching students how to read, to basic mathematics, to geography and biology. In fact, many of the greats in educational games came from the 1980’s. The following is a brief list of blasts from the past that I’m sure many have had the privilege to play growing up and what they were meant to accomplish:

  • The Oregon Trail

    The goal of the trail was to teach about the realities of 19th century life on the Oregon Trail, from battling swollen rivers and broken axles to the ravages of dysentery.

  • Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

    The search of Carmen was meant to make geography fun for learners. The game was such a success that several different versions were created to cover different subjects like history and math.

  • Reader Rabbit

    This game series was a successful tool for teaching youngsters how to read and spell.

  • Number Munchers

    This game was centered on teaching math and problem solving. Another series was designed to teach basic grammar skills called Word Munchers.

  • Math Blaster

    Like Number Munchers, Math Blaster was designed to make math exercises interesting. The game series later covered a range of subjects from algebra to reading.

  • SimCity

    Problem solving skills as well as knowledge about managing day-to-day affairs such as planning, spending, and allocating resources were the goals of this widely popular game.

Taking Learning Games to the Next Level

The Trend

Over the past 2 years, various reasons have taken learning games to the next level: teaching the fundamentals of computer science and coding languages. This trend appears to have stemmed from a variety of factors, the basis of which is the need for employees in the ever-growing computer sciences fields. It is thought that creating more learning games that teach coding will entice the next generation of developers and ensure the industry’s future. Stemming off of that, there has been a lot of promotion introducing more girls to the industry. A few examples here would be Covergirl’s Girls Can campaign and Microsoft’s Girls Do Science campaign. No matter the reasoning behind the trend, there’s no arguing that learning to code is being promoted in a big way, and not only for youth but for adults as well in the form of code academies, boot camps, and coding communities.

Computer Science Jobs

Resource: Part of infographic for Code.org

The Medium

Now that we’ve covered the trend, let’s go over how learning code is being accomplished. Based on my findings, there are 3 types of gaming architectures used for teaching code:

  • Basic Children’s GamesBasic children’s games help teach not only syntax but basic computer science concepts. Some of these concepts include basic programming logic, representing information (binary numbers), algorithms, procedures, and cryptography.
  • Games with Goals in MindThere are more advanced games for adults and teens that have goals in mind. When you finish the game you not only learn the basics but you’ve also built something of your own, whether that’s an app or a website. For example, Code Avengers is a learning website that is composed of games that help teach how to code games, apps, and websites.
  • Games Centered on CommunitiesThese are typically for players with previous coding knowledge where they get to test their skills by competing against other coders. You’re given a problem in code and have to use your code knowledge of different topics and languages to solve it. I’ve seen this mostly done on an individual basis utilizing a point and rank system, but I bet there are some communities out there that have teams competing against each other.

Platforms for these 3 architectures can range from good old fashioned board games or games that use physical objects/activities, to mobile and computer apps, to gaming community websites. I haven’t found games developed specifically for a gaming console, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t a few out there.

Lists of Examples

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for, it’s game time! Here are a few lists with some great finds. I found a little bit of everything, including some popular coding games, programs/bootcamps, and code “academy” websites.

Examples of Learning Games

Examples of “Code Academies”

Examples of Programs or BootCamps

Note: There are usually Code Camps and BarCamps specific to location. I’ve just listed ones for Orlando and Tampa.

Additional Resources

For those that are more interested in the topic than the games themselves, here are a few sites and articles that I came across during my exploration of learning games and their history.

Enjoy!

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