Video Game Teaches Elementary Students How To Code

Video Game Teaches Elementary Students How To Code

Ten to twelve year olds can learn programming by playing CodeSpells.

Leah Gonzalez
  • 24 april 2013

A team of computer scientists at the Jacobs School of Engineering of the University of California have created a video game that helps kids learn JAVA. CodeSpells is a first-person player video game that was developed to teach elementary and high school students how to use the widely-used programming language.

According to William Griswold who led the team of graduate students developing the video game, it’s especially difficult to teach programming to younger students because of a lack of qualified teachers for the age group and because of the nature of programming itself. The video game was designed to keep the students interested and engaged while they learn the main components of JAVA.


The team tested the video game on forty 10-12 year old girls who have never faced programming before. The team found out that after just one hour of playing, the girls were able to learn the basics of JAVA programming and were able to use it to play the game. The team has already presented its findings at the SIGCSE 2013,  a forum for educators to discuss computer science education.

Currently, CodeSpells is the only video game that uses programming in game play. In the game, the player is a wizard who arrives in a place inhabited by gnomes that used to have magic. The gnomes have lost their magic and it is up to the wizard or the player to help them  by doing the spells for them. The spells are written in JAVA. Spells include flying, building fire, and levitating objects in the game. In the game, players also earn badges and complete quests such as rescuing a gnome or crossing a river. The quests require the players to use the JAVA spells.


The initial test group were able to learn the JAVA spells quickly and were also able to write and rewrite the JAVA codes in order to complete the quests in the game. They were also able to enjoy the game and were disappointed when they had to stop playing. For the research team, the video game is an effective way to teach students outside of the classroom environment.

Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California


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