A Computer Game to Teach Programming


This paper appeared in the Proceedings of the National Educational Computing Conference, June 1999

Keywords: learning computer programming, interactive tutorials, animated programming


ToonTalk is an animated interactive world inside of which one can construct a very large range of computer programs. These programs are not constructed by typing text or arranging icons but by taking actions in this world. Robots can be trained, birds can be given messages to deliver, and so on. ToonTalk has been described at NECC95 [Kah95] as well as [Kah96a and Kah96b].

This paper describes the design and preliminary testing of an interactive puzzle game that functions as a ToonTalk tutorial. Children are presented with a series of interactive puzzles in a game-like narrative context. The puzzles gradually introduce programming constructs and techniques. Each puzzle presents the player with a very limited selection of ToonTalk objects. Even some very young children are able to solve the puzzles because the search space is so strongly constrained. And yet players do not behave as if the puzzles are too easy – the children are clearly challenged. The sequence of puzzles is carefully designed to gradually introduce new concepts one at a time. Testing has shown that both children and adults enjoy the puzzles and have learned some sophisticated programming skills.

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