was one of our biggest concerns. Course
satisfaction overall was high with many
even mentioning in their course evaluation that they liked programming
games. Figure 2 shows sample games
and simulations produced by teachers
such as 1980s-era arcade-style 2D games
(Donkey Kong), puzzle games (Tetris),
educational simulation games (honey
bee pollination), 3D indoor games, and
3D outdoor games. To design these
games students had to engage in an iterative computational thinking process. 7
2. Tools to support computational
thinkers in schools: Computational
thinking tools. We used our AgentCubes computational thinking tool
because it had established accessibility even with younger kids, independent of gender and race, 8 and it
enabled kids to create interesting artifacts such as 3D games and STEM
simulations. To cover the wide range
of needs in elementary schools, we
also included CS Unplugged activities,
for classrooms lacking computers, and
Processing, as brief exposure to more
traditional textual programming.
There was a huge shift of perception
regarding pre-service teachers’ abil-
ity to program. Before the course es-
sentially nobody had done any kind of
programming nor did they think pro-
gramming was particularly relevant to
K– 12 education. At the end of the first
course all 600+ pre-service teachers
had created and programmed multiple
games and participated in multi week
game programming group projects. Ev-
erybody had gone beyond the minimal
basics of programming, for instance
by programming collaborate ghosts
in a Pac-Man like game. Also, learning
was not reduced to CS in isolation but
included uses of computation in other
subject areas such math, music, art,
and social sciences.
3. Course structure: The seven big
ideas of computer science. The mapping of the Scalable Game Design
strategy onto the computer science
part of the Lehrplan 21 was straightforward. The three main Swiss Lehrplan 21 CS topics (data, algorithms,
and systems) were identified as a
subset of the seven big ideas found
in the AP Computer Science Principles framework: creativity, abstraction, data, algorithms, programming,
the Internet and global impact. Each
Computer Science Principle idea was
mapped onto a two-week block in the
In spite of its density, most students
really enjoyed this course structure.
Students took particular pleasure
in the Computer Science Principles
ideas that were either evidently rel-
evant to their lives such as the Inter-
net, or conveyed through engaging
activities such as a CS unplugged role
play of people acting as bubbles in
bubble sort to understand the notion
of an algorithm.
Scale or Fail?
The preliminary evaluation of the first
part of the course (Introduction to
Computer Science) suggests a shift
in audience from self-selected in-service teachers to all pre-service teachers
may not be as difficult as anticipated.
However, to actually assess if we can
teach these pre-service teachers to
teach computational thinking to their
students will not only require us to
conduct the second part of the course
(Computer Science Didactics) but also
much more time to observe practical impact. We have an approach that
has been successful in the past, and
we have a broad, transformative experiment that could scale to an entire
country. We have confidence that this
approach will allow us to cross the
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students through a space of computational thinking
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7. Repenning, A. Moving beyond syntax: Lessons from 20
years of blocks programing in AgentSheets. Journal
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Transactions on Computing Education ( TOCE) 15
9. Vogel, S., Santo, R., and Ching, D. Visions of computer
science education: Unpacking arguments for and
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Alexander Repenning ( email@example.com)
is Professor and Chair of Computer Science Education
at FHNW, School of Education, Windisch, Switzerland,
and Professor of Computer Science at the University of
Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA.
This research was supported by the U.S. National Science
Foundation, the Swiss National Science Foundation, and
the Hasler Foundation.
Copyright held by author.
Figure 2. AgentCubes games designed and programmed by pre-service teachers.