Puzzle games: a metaphor for computational thinking

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    Introductory programming courses often concentrate on teaching students the syntax for a specific programming language and the relevant constructs for implementing sequence, selection, and iteration. A necessary component of teaching programming, a fundamental flaw is the omission of a suitable strategy for teaching students problem solving. The ability to manipulate a programming language from a syntactical perspective leaves the students with a cursory awareness but does not necessarily mean that given a complex problem they will have the ability to produce a suitable solution. Thus it is important to embed within the teaching of introductory programming an integrated approach to problem solving. This can be a challenge within itself as students are not always receptive to the traditional approach of defining the problem, planning the solution, coding and testing the program. Present such problems as a paper and pen based exercise, couple this with the student’s perceptions of these problems as irrelevant and a recipe for lack of engagement ensues. Teaching introductory programming to Game Software Development students lead to an interesting observation; while playing various genres of game, when encountering a puzzle, they appeared to consider their options as if mentally processing a strategy or solution before proceeding. Thus a hypothesis was derived that the use of cerebral based puzzle games could be used to introduce computational thinking, its four key techniques and the mapping between these techniques and the basic programming building blocks in a fun and engaging manner far removed from the traditional approach. Game Software Development students were already, unwittingly, implementing the techniques of decomposing the problem, identifying patterns, abstracting out relevant information and developing suitable algorithms to solve the puzzle. This paper will present the initial research identifying the underlying pedagogical issues associated with the use of game based learning in respect of computational thinking and the genres of game considered for use and the pedagogical constructs they exhibit.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the 10th European Conference on Games Based Learning
    EditorsThomas Connolly, Liz Boyle
    Place of PublicationPaisley
    PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing International Limited
    Number of pages10
    ISBN (Electronic)9781911218104
    ISBN (Print)9781911218098
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2016

    Publication series

    ISSN (Print)2049-0992


    • game based learning
    • computational thinking
    • problem solving
    • programming


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