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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

Purpose: In this project, the team fully developed and tested a mobile game app for grade school students to learn foundational coding skills through creative expression. Prior research has demonstrated 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. This mobile game aims to address this gap.

Project Activities: During a Phase I project funded 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 the Phase I project with 8 grade 1 and 2 classrooms over 1 week demonstrated that the prototype functioned as planned. Teachers indicated they believed the fully developed game could be implemented within a classroom, and students were engaged while playing the game prototype.

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 Phase II project, the team expanded 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. In particular, the team developed pretend-play scenarios that include characters, storylines, and incentives to further engage students, including young girls, and the team also made connections to learning goals more explicit. The final game includes 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 code "what-if" histories using a conditional based choose-your-own outcome feature, as well as different storylines using the figures they create.

After development concluded, the researchers conducted a pilot study to assess the feasibility and usability, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of Story Mode to increase students' coding and computational skills over a 9-week period. The sample included 11 educators and 259 students, with 6 of the classes randomly assigned to use Story Mode and the other 5 to use business-as-usual activities. Researchers compared pre-and-posttest scores of students' learning outcomes associated to computer science.

Related IES Projects: Learning to Code with a Pretend Play Storytelling Model (91990018C0023)

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations:  Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Project Website:

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:


  • 2022, July — ED/IES SBIR awardee codeSpark won a 2022 SBIR Tibbets Award from the Small Business Administration among the more than 600 submissions. Read here.