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IES Contract

Title: Story Mode for Teaching Cross-Curricular Coding Projects
Center: NCER Year: 2019
Principal Investigator: Shochet, Joe Awardee: codeSpark
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (6/26/2019 – 6/25/2021) Award Amount: $899,072
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: 91990019C0035

Project Website:

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: The project team will fully develop and test a mobile game app for grade school students to learn foundational coding skills through creative expression. Research demonstrates that children who are exposed to computational thinking and STEM curriculum are more likely to enter technical fields and have fewer gender-based stereotypes. However, many schools lack curriculum, resources, and training to support teachers in introducing coding into standard instructional practice.

Project Activities: During Phase I in 2018, the team developed a prototype of Story Mode, a game where children create digital stories and, in the process, learn the basics of coding. Pilot research at the end of Phase I with eight grade 1 and 2 classrooms over a one week demonstrated that the prototype functioned as planned, that teachers indicated they believed the fully developed game could be implemented within a classroom, and that students were engaged while playing the game prototype.

In Phase II of the project, the team will expand the app to include more features, curriculum, and training to support teachers in integrating computational thinking and coding concepts across different lesson plans in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and when students do book reports. After development concludes, researchers will conduct a pilot study to assess the feasibility and usability, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of Story Mode to increase children's coding and computational skills over a period of 9 weeks. The sample will include 60 grade 1 and 2 classrooms and 1200 students (20 per class), with half of the classes randomly assigned to use the Story Mode and the other half to use business as usual activities. Researchers will compare pre-and-post scores of student's learning outcomes associated to computer science. Costs will be calculated based on per student implementation and additional time to prepare teachers.

Product: In previous R&D, the developers created codeSpark Academy, a game that employs a visual and block-based approach with puzzles to teach coding skills to students ages 5 to 9 years old. codeSpark Academy is in widespread use in and out of schools around the world. In this project, the developers will expand storytelling creative tools within the existing game. The pretend-play scenarios will include characters, storylines, and incentives to further engage students, and to make connections to learning goals more explicit. The final game will include user-created and uploaded photographic backgrounds, for students to customize gameplay by representing people, locations, and events at their own school or throughout history. Students can then code "what-if" histories using a conditional based choose-your-own outcome feature, as well as different storylines using the figures they create. A website will be developed with resources to support teacher implementation.