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Computer Science Education and Story

NSF Pathways (AISL): The Role of Story in Games to Teach Computer Science Concepts to Middle School Girls

As part of the Gram's House project, we are researching the effect of story in analog educational games in teaching computer science concepts to middle school girls.  We hypothesize that some context or a story setting will make learning concepts easier than a completely abstract presentation, but we are unsure of whether a story with plot, themes, and character development will help or be a distraction.

This research began September 2014 and will continue for two years with Pathways funding from NSF's Advancement of Informal STEM Learning program.

Pilot Study: Early Insights into Teaching Computer Science with Story to Middle School Girls

In spring 2012, we decided to run a small study with our all-girls mini-course participants.  We wanted to understand how story might affect the girls' ability to learn computer science concepts.  We did not end up publishing the work, but it did lead into further research with the NSF Pathways grant described above.


Stories have been the vehicle of human knowledge for many generations, and some CS educators have been turning to them to help improve their pedagogy. We wanted to learn more about the experience of using story to teach introductory computer science topics, so we conducted a qualitative observational study with middle school girls. We taught two CS Unplugged activities -- Image Representation and Finite State Automata -- with a story and a non-story condition. We found that while story was engaging and resulted in better understanding than an abstract activity, it did not necessarily have any advantages beyond having a light context. Our insights into the student and instructor experience will help guide future study on story.


Our unpublished paper may be downloaded as a PDF.