RAPUNSEL & CREOL - Games that Teach Kids to Program

Speaker  Mary Flanagan and Ken Perlin

Affiliation  NYU Center for Advanced Technology

Host  John SanGiovanni

Duration  01:24:53

Date recorded  14 June 2004

RAPUNSEL is an on-line computer game/learning system to enable children, especially underprivileged groups and girls, learn to program computers. It is being developed by researchers at the Media Research Laboratory at New York University and TiltFactor Laboratory at Hunter College, New York. The goal of the RAPUNSEL project is to make a "self-teaching" environment, delivered as a web-based service, where children are motivated to learn Java programming incrementally through a shared game. The program is currently targeted at middle school children, and the development team is working with middle school girls at local computer clubhouses as design partners. RAPUNSEL will enable many children across the country to play networked game with their friends, and ultimately create their own games through computer programming.

CREOL is a more ambitious follow-on project with the following goals. In another generation: (i) everybody will know how to program; (ii) nobody will need to learn how to program. The key innovation is to recast a subset of programming as a natural-language-like skill, and to impart that skill to children ages five through seven, while they are still in the age of rapid natural-language acquisition. A community of children will interact with an on-line simulated game world. Children make things happen in this world via a GUI that lets kids build sentences out of word and phrase tiles, using natural English syntax. The GUI restricts interactions to those that are understandable by a software parser. Children learn how to "converse" with a computer in order to get the computer to do things and to answer questions algorithmically. Children will carry this skill with them into secondary school and adulthood. The first children who use the system will intuitively enforce language rules that are easy and natural for children to learn, using their powerful innate natural language acquisition skills, in ways that we as adults could never explicitly design. The decisions made by these children will lead to a new "creole" - in this case a hybrid human/computer language - which can be picked up intuitively by other children.

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