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Comilona: the game of balanced diet menus Approaching Nutrition and Computational Thinking

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This work describes the development and implementation of the Comilona game. It has been crafted from the beginning trying to emphasize the educational content and the players enjoyment at the same time. The users can practice and develop their skills in Computational Thinking with little or no programming knowledge. The game target audience is 8 to 12 years and it aims is cover programming concepts through the development of menus to a balance diet. Also, it discusses the potential benefits of this kind of games as a support tool to foster student motivation and abilities in problem solving.
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Actas del V Congreso Internacional de Videojuegos y Educación (CIVE'17)
ISBN 978-84-697-3849-8
Comilona: the game of balanced
diet menus
Approaching Nutrition and Computational Thinking
Rafael Herrero, Coromoto León
Dpto. Ingeniería Informática y de Sistemas
Universidad de La Laguna
Apto. 456, 38200 La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
comthink@ull.es, cleon@ull.es
AbstractThis work describes the development and
implementation of the Comilona game. It has been crafted from
the beginning trying to emphasize the educational content and the
players enjoyment at the same time. The users can practice and
develop their skills in Computational Thinking with little or no
programming knowledge. The game target audience is 8 to 12
years and it aims is cover programming concepts through the
development of menus to a balance diet. Also, it discusses the
potential benefits of this kind of games as a support tool to foster
student motivation and abilities in problem solving.
Keywordscomputational thinking; game based learning;
introductory programming, games and learning
I. INTRODUCTION
Computational Thinking (CT) has increasingly gained
attention in the educational field in the past decade, following a
short paper by J. Wing [1], who used this expression to indicate
thinking as a computer scientist (i.e., using an analytic and
algorithmic approach to formulate, analyze and solve problems).
In her article, Wing claimed that CT is a fundamental skill for
everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing,
and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every
child analytical ability. Ten years after this seminal work,
hundreds of papers on this topic have been published in the
academic literature with the added value of CT to foster thinking
and problem solving skills [2].
A mutual influence between CT and coding/programming is
recognized. The acquisition of CT does not to necessarily need
computer programming, being a (conceptual) approach to
problem solving that uses strategies such as algorithms,
abstraction and debugging [3]. However, programming
illustrates in concrete terms otherwise-abstract concepts and can
therefore be an effective and practical way to foster the
development of CT skills. On the other hand, teaching word
processing and how to create slideshows does not lead students
to do a deep analysis that allows them to think creatively and
critically [4].
Digital Literacy, which is usually identified with the
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) school
subject, in which students learn to use computers and other
electronic equipment to store and send information, is seen to
differ from CT, even though connected to it. Few question the
potential value of CT in schools but it is less clear how
traditional coding tools can be successfully employed for
Computer Science Education without introducing difficult
overhead. Particularly in subject areas where coding is not the
focus, coding overhead quickly turns into an insurmountable
educational obstacle.
Moreover, many initiatives have been launched to
promote programming among the population, especially
among children and young people who have a broad digital
culture. The Hour of Code [5] is a global initiative consisting
of one-hour introduction to computer science. It was designed
to demystify code and show that everyone can learn the
basics. The goal is not to teach everybody to become an expert
computer scientist in one hour. Only one hour is enough to
learn that computer science is fun and creative, that it is
accessible at all ages, for all students, regardless of their
background. Similar initiatives are: Made With Code, Code
Club, CoderDojo, Code Week, among others. Computer
Science for All [6] is a project promoted by the White House
which intends to empower a generation of American students
with the computer science skills they need to thrive in a digital
economy. Google CS First [7] is a project which is intended
to inspire kids to create with technology through free
computer science clubs. Google is also promoting
computational thinking by the creation and dissemination of
materials and courses for educators [8].
There is an extensive bibliography related to Game-Based
Learning (GBL) for computing. Games can be a valuable tool
for enriching computer science education, since they can
facilitate a number of conditions that promote learning:
student motivation, active learning, adaptability,
collaboration, and simulation. Additionally, they provide the
instructor the ability to collect learning metrics with relative
ease [9]. In this work we present the digital game “Comilona”
designed to teach knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes related
to computer science. The systematic review by Wang [10]
found no empirically validated games to support education in
health care training. We found three games focus primarily on
nutrition area [11] [13] but not in computer science
education.
Actas del V Congreso Internacional de Videojuegos y Educación (CIVE'17)
ISBN 978-84-697-3849-8
The paper is organized as follows: Section II presents the
progress of the digital game through examples. Section III
locates the target audience. Section IV describes the
implementation process and the software-tools used to
develop the application. Section V presents the concluding
remarks and the future works.
Fig. 1. Current version of Comilona prototype
II. GAME DEVELOPMENT
The angular theme of the game is nutrition, where the goal is
always to create a balanced menu that meets the nutritional
values recommended by nutritionists [14]. However, the
objective is to learn the concepts of CT in a gradual, never
exponential way. The game is divided into levels with several
challenges each.
The game simulates a puzzle where players control different
kind of foods by giving various commands to them. The goal of
the game is to prepare a dish where each level contains only one
recipe. During the game-play, players need to design a solution
algorithm through using programming and symbolic
representations in order to mix the foods to cook the recipe. The
commands players can give to the foods are divided into two as
action commands and programming commands. While action
commands are used to choose and move the foods in an
environment consisting of a bowl, programming commands
indirectly affect these actions and facilitate designing
algorithms. Both types of commands are dragged from their
associated toolbars and can be dropped into the programming
specific area. Players play the game by dragging and dropping
any number of commands into these programming area in any
sequence they choose, for as long as they have foods in their
game-play. To complete a level, players need to move their
foods on the bowl, activate the blender, and this will then allow
them to proceed to the next level. As players progress through
the levels, the bowl environment expands and the recipes
increases in complexity. In each level, players also encounter
items that can be used to cook. These cookware items are
randomly scattered every time players start to play a level, and
thus this kind of approach ensures that the problem presented to
a player at one level is significantly different from a problem
presented to another player playing at the same level, or indeed
the same player repeating the level to consolidate their learning.
The randomness of cookware items is also controlled in order to
guarantee the complexity of levels remains consistent. The game
rewards players with new features (such as new cookware items,
new recipes and new diet constraint) as players advance through
the game.
Figure 1 shows the user interface for the first level where the
user will learn simple concepts such as aggregation, which leads
to the theory of sequence. For example, how many fruits are
needed to reach a recommended nutritional value as fats or
proteins. In the next level, it will approach more advanced
concepts like loops. The first challenges are the same as the first
level, but now, the player can not, for example, select fives
apples one by one, they have to do it using loops. The last level
will be a mix of all the concepts studied previously, but now
going further in the programming concepts with conditionals
and functions. In this case, we will point out the user if the result
is not the optimal answer.
Actas del V Congreso Internacional de Videojuegos y Educación (CIVE'17)
ISBN 978-84-697-3849-8
III. TARGET AUDIENCE
This introductory computer science digital game was
designed for ages 8 to 12, and might be useful for a wide range
of ages and a variety of courses.
Fig. 2. Comilona story on Scratch
IV. IMPLEMENTATION
A stand-alone, cross-platform desktop application has been
developed. It works on the major operating systems on the
market and is totally portable, so it can be copied to any storage
device, such as a pendrive or a CD, without installing anything
on the guest machine. No Internet connection is needed, but the
development was based on web technologies. A client has been
programmed in the Javascript programming language [15]. The
native application was created using the Electron [16]
framework. It is an open source project maintained by Github
[17] and uses Chromium to assure that the development will be
fully compatible with most browsers. Since Comilona is based
on the block philosophy [18], the library for building visual
programming editors Blockly [19] has been used. Blockly
allows to define a workspace within the page where we will have
the blocks on one side and the area on which to place them on
the other. Each of the blocks represents a code fragment, we can
create some custom ones or use the already predefined ones.
These elements can be dragged from one area to another to form
a puzzle that becomes code in different languages. The
Comilona code is in charge of analyses the generated code to
determine if the puzzle formed by the player is correct or not.
Comilona is not a platform to develop games like Scratch
[20] or Kodu [21]. Scratch is a visual programming environment
that lets users create interactive, media-rich projects. People
have created a wide range of projects with Scratch, including
animated stories, games, online news shows, book reports,
greeting cards, music videos, science projects, tutorials,
simulations, etc. [22]. Scratch builds on the constructionist ideas
of Logo [23] and Etoys [24]. It makes easy to import or create
many kinds of media (images, sounds, music). The Scratch Web
site provides a social context for Scratch users, allowing users
to share their Scratch projects, receive feedback and
encouragement from their peers, and learn from the projects of
others. On the contrary, Comilona is a stand-alone desktop
application. The goal of Comilona is to offer a close exercise to
develop CT skills for student for ages 8 to 12, and its story
implementation using Scratch is out of this range. Figure 2
shows a possible implementation of Comilona’s story using
Scratch.
Actas del V Congreso Internacional de Videojuegos y Educación (CIVE'17)
ISBN 978-84-697-3849-8
V. CONCLUSIONS
This work has illustrated an approach to learn through digital
games in an effort to integrate computational thinking with
learning of nutrition concepts. The prototype game has now
reached the stage where a detailed and structured evaluation can
be carried out. A structured evaluation exercise with young
students will be performed, and the empirical evidence from that
exercise will be analyzed and used to validate our research.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This work has been supported by the Spanish Ministry of
Economy, Industry and Competitiveness inside the program
I+D+i Orientada a los Retos de la Sociedad with contract
number TIN2016-78410-R.
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... Fig. 1 shows an example of activity for secondary. This is Comilona [10] whose objective is to cover the fundamental concepts of programming by solving the problem of diet, posing challenges of increasing difficulty that allows the preparation of balanced menus. ...
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