J. Jenson1, M. Droumeva2

1York University (CANADA)
2Simon Fraser University (CANADA)
This paper addresses the gap between what some students have access to in terms of existing school curriculum and teacher know-how and the movement for 21st century skills. Despite widespread enthusiasm for “21st century learning,” researchers and policymakers around the globe are still trying to articulate exactly what 21st century learning is, if the concept has not been abandoned all together (Jenkins, 2015), and while public education generally is being criticized for not doing it (Francis, 2012; Lynch, 2013). Once an anathema to parents and teachers, digital games are increasingly at the forefront of conversations about ways to address student disengagement (Rieber, L. P, 1996; Rupp, Gushta, Mislevy, & Shaffer, D.W., 2010) and to foster 21st century learning and skills. That research concentrates on playing digital games, whether those are commercially made or made especially for education. Less prominent has been research focused on the design and development of games as a means to support critical competencies like creative problem solving, collaboration, and programming skills. Designing and making digital games, as prior work suggests, can provide an ideal framework for operationalizing 21st century learning: creating digital artifacts entails technical, computational and aesthetic forms of competence whose success depends on bridging between arts and sciences – an intersection increasingly characteristic of the contemporary job market and effective participation in social life. We report on a study that took place in grade 6 classes in a very large elementary school in Ontario, Canada, in a neighbourhood heavily populated by transient immigrant communities. We chose to work with Grade 6 students owing to the fact that much of the work done previously (see Carbonaro, et al., 2010; Denner, 2011) suggests that grade 6 and 7 is the point when many students begin to make choices about what courses they will or will not take at the high school level and this often ends up determining post-graduate specializations. We argue from this data that students are not by any means ubiquitiously skilled when it comes to using technology, and that the software we used permits a variety of scalable programming actions in the process of coding and testing a game. This is not only a viable way of introducing a middle-school demographic to computational literacy but is one other means for fostering and supporting the STEM related competencies, vocabularies and skills that are the earmark for 21st century learning.