Computer science students mentor middle schoolers to create computer games
11:36 a.m., Jan. 2, 2014--As 20 middle school students from Newark Charter School enthusiastically showed off the games they made with the assistance of University of Delaware students from the Department of Computer and Information Sciences (CIS), faculty members and fellow students from the department looked on.
During the fall semester students enrolled in the UD course CISC 367: Field Experience in Teaching Computing spent one hour a week after school teaching students from Newark Charter School and The College School how to use the educational programming language Scratch. UD CIS students also worked with students at Mount Pleasant High School.
These students, along with those in four other classes in the department, presented their semester-long projects on campus at the inaugural CIS Project Showcase on Dec. 5, 2013.
Susan Cornett, a fourth and fifth grade computer teacher at Newark Charter, said she wanted to start an after-school Scratch club for her students and chose to partner with the University after hearing about its affiliation with the CS10K Program.
Scratch, she said, helps develop the logic, problem solving and collaboration skills students need to succeed, rather than just preparing for a test.
“One of the results of testing is that kids get focused on how to pass the test and really aren’t learning how to apply that knowledge to a problem. Sure they can tell you lots of information, but they are losing the ability to think things through, step back from a problem and look at it,” Cornett said.
Working independently or in groups of two, the middle school students created number guessing games, dialogue games and other projects. Cornett and UD students offered guidance when needed, but the students developed their own ideas and did the majority of the work independently, she said.
Joshua Horn, a junior computer science major, said he was excited to see how quickly the younger students picked up on concepts and their enthusiasm to learn it in their spare time.
On a more personal level, Horn said the experience helped him gain confidence in public speaking and said he felt privileged to influence the next generation of computer scientists.
“The possibility that I may have sparked the interest of future computer science people at a young age is very rewarding to me,” Horn said.
Lori Pollock, professor of computer science at UD, said that UD students also learned to teach computer concepts in a simple way.
“It’s important that students learn how to explain concepts without using jargon,” Pollock said.
Presenting their work through the showcase also helped students prepare for the workforce by mimicking what they would encounter when working with clients, she said.
For younger students, participating in the event gave them the chance to try out projects other UD students were doing, such as CISC 275: Intro to Software Engineering, where students created educational games about native and invasive plants for the Delaware Department of Transportation.
“It is inspiring to watch the kids develop role models and realize that with practice they can create more advanced projects like that in a few years,” Pollock said.
“If we can expose students early to this, then we can help develop skills that will make them better employees and thinkers in the future,” added Cornett.
Next semester, the professors leading the course and developing the regional partnerships -- James Atlas, Terrance Harvey, Chrystalla Mouza, and Lori Pollock -- plan to expand the course to include partnerships with Hodgson and Delcastle vocational technical high schools.
Article by Collette L. O’Neal
Photos by Evan Krape