David Mills is an NSF Fellow at the University of Memphis, where he is pursuing the MS degree in Mathematical Sciences with a concentration in computer science. He holds both a BS degree in computer science and a BA in Digital Arts from Stetson University. His research interests are in software engineering, data mining, biotechnology, and computer science education.
Something For Everyone: Fun AgentSheets Projects
Over the last few years, enrollments for students pursuing computer science degrees has dropped about 30% nationwide. Most academicians believe this phenomenon is due to the recent dot-com bust along with the media's focus on software development outsourcing to foreign nations (Chabrow, 2004). At the University of Memphis, we are working in local high school programming classes to encourage students to major in computer-related fields. Through the NSF-funded project Tri-P-LETS (Three P Learning Environment for Teachers and Students) (2005), computer science graduate students help design and present new curriculum modules. Particular attention is given to three P foundation areas: analytical and problem solving skills, programming concepts as opposed to syntax, and the use of a disciplined process to develop software. The overall goal is to provide students with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their future careers.
Traditional high school programming classes often merely emphasize the syntax of a particular programming language. However, students have the most difficulty with problem solving and developing their own algorithms. Furthermore, students often develop poor software development habits in these early courses because programming assignments are small, and the students are able to successfully develop their code without using formal designs. This means that students with significant programming experience are often the most resistant to software engineering principles when they enter college (Sherrell & Shiva, 2005). In order to motivate students, we use the game-authoring and simulation tool AgentSheets (AgentSheets. 2005; Repenning & Ionnadu, 2004), while emphasizing the foundation areas described above.
In AgentSheets, users construct programs in a graphical environment with built-in coding templates. Programs consist of worksheets containing user-defined agents who react to a list of rules (condition/action pairs). Due to the interactive development environment, students can focus on problem solving without struggling with the syntax of a high-level language such as Visual Basic or Java. Even more importantly, students are able to develop and implement interesting simulations and games much earlier.
This interactive exhibit highlights several of the AgentSheets projects that we have used this past year. Conference participants will have the opportunity to play games and interact with simulations such as the following.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DGE-0338324. We would like to thank all Fellows and students who have designed and/or implemented AgentSheets programs associated with this grant.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DGE-0338324.