Over the past two years, my Ph.D. student Mike Lee has been working on Gidget, a new way to give teens this self efficacy in programming. I’m proud to announce that Gidget is now available for anyone to play at www.helpgidget.com. Give it a try!
The game takes a very different approach than existing learning technologies for programming. Rather than trying to motivate kids through creativity (as in Scratch and Alice), provide instruction through tutorials (like Kahn Academy and Codecademy), or inject programming into traditional game mechanics (as in CodeCombat or LightBot), Gidget attempts to translate programming itself into a game, providing a sequence of debugging puzzles for learners to solve. It does this, however, with a particular learning objective in mind: teach players that computers are not omniscient, flawless, and intelligent machines, but rather fast, reliable, and mostly ignorant machines that incredibly powerful problem solving tools. The game’s goal is not necessary for players to learn to code (though this does happen in spades), but to teach players that programmers are the ones that give software their magic, and that they could be a code magician.
Our efforts are part of a much larger national conversation about programming and digital literacy. The basic observation, which many have noted over the past two decades, is that professional programmers aren’t the only people who program. Anyone who has to manipulate large volumes of information is at some point going to write a program. Gidget is explicitly designed to give children, teens, and really anyone with an interest in knowing more about programming, the confidence they need to learn more.
Try the game yourself. Share it with your kids. If you teach a CS1 class, try giving it to your students as their first assignment. Send us feedback in the game directly or write me with ideas.