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I've been talking to a lot of schools lately that are experimenting with game development using XNA in their courses. For some of them at least some of the motivation is to attract more students into their computer science programs. Springbrook High School has a video advertisement that shows students playing one of the games they have created. It is an interesting way to get students to think about taking some real computer science courses.
Other reasons for adopting XNA courses include wanting to find a more advanced course for top students. Creating real video games requires a serious knowledge of computer science concepts and frequently pushes math knowledge to higher levels. (See this interview with a game developer.) The games may be fun to play but a lot of learning goes into the process of creating them. And then there is filling the void left by the College Board dropping the AP CS AB exam!
One struggle here is that often the level of knowledge required is beyond that of teachers themselves. Few teachers are game development or graphics programming experts. More often than not teachers are learning along with the students. That's not a bag thing but it does mean that some people are going to be intimidated into not starting. When I talked about this with one of my co-workers, Sam Stokes, who teaches a college game development course he came up with an interesting idea. More and more colleges and universities are offering game development programs. Maybe a good outreach (and student service project) program would be for college students to bring what they learn to high schools?
Perhaps in some cases the students could run after school programs for advanced students? Or in other cases they could teach units using XNA as part of existing advanced classes? The move from Java (which AP classes teach) and C# (which XNA uses) is really very small as students get started. Several schools that I have talked to are already mixing XNA with their AP CS courses (usually near the end of the year or after the AP exam) so it should be doable. Or maybe they can just volunteer as tutors for interested teachers who do not have time (or money) to take a full blown university course.
These are just some random ideas off the top of our heads. What do you think?
This week Clint posted his interview with John Cash from Blizzard Entertainment over at Channel 8. The "money line" in the interview is something like "you know that math you think you'll never need? Well you're going to need it." John keeps his college physics and calculus textbooks at his desk and uses them regularly.
John also talks about how when they interview people they look for people who go beyond on their own and actually finish things. Apparently lots of people start developing their own games but few actually finish. They are looking for people who can finish. Imagine that!
There were a number of blog posts with above average comment counts in March. The post I wrote about number systems in computer science had 9 comments. Pretty much everyone thought this was/is an important topic for computer science students. Personally that was the most fun thing I learned in math before high school. There have to be ways to teach that as a fun thing to learn.
Likewise my query about XML in schools received a lot of comments in favor of the move. Several people suggested other markup languages as worthy of inclusion as well. I'm thinking that the concept of markup languages as a foundational way of thinking and of sharing data is the key piece and more important than the specific markup language used.
The build your own or buy (computers) pre-built discussion had a number of comments. That is a discussion I hope students have among themselves and in their classrooms. I don't think there is one right answer to that question but I do think that people need to make the decision based on particular situations and needs.
The Art of the Demo post that ended March for me also attracted a lot of attention. I was very happy with the information that some teachers are requiring presentations and demos from their students. The point that learning how to deal with things that go wrong was a particularly good one that I wish I had made on my own.
So far it looks like discussion around the AB CS exam and the future of high school computer science has potential for a lot of activity. I hope you'll join in on those conversations.