Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Valerie Otero

Second Advisor

Kris Gutiérrez

Third Advisor

William Penuel

Fourth Advisor

Alexander Repenning

Fifth Advisor

David Webb


The world, and especially our own country, is in dire need of a larger and more diverse population of computer scientists. While many organizations have approached this problem of too few computer scientists in various ways, a promising, and I believe necessary, path is to expose elementary students to authentic practices of the discipline. Through a design research study I worked toward developing an effective method to engage elementary students (grades 3-5) in computer science (CS) through video game creation at an after school program called El Pueblo Mágico. To carry out this goal I implemented, and refined, two scaffolding tools over two iterations of the study to help students design and create their own games. These scaffolding tools were meant to support students in organizing and refining their own game ideas, while also assisting them in accessing the CS principles of design and algorithms. The students were to then use their designs to create their games using an agent-based programming environment. In the first iteration of the study I asked students to design their games using a pencil-and-paper planning document and then create the games using the AgentSheets programming environment. I found that the pencil-and-paper version of the scaffolding tool was too open for students and they never finished their designs or accessed information that would have helped them make their games. As a result, the students in the first study needed considerable help creating their games from me. In the second iteration of the study I asked students to use a new web-based scaffolding tool that I developed, called AgentDesign, to do design and then create their games using AgentCubes Online. The AgentDesign planning tool was successful in guiding most of the students through the process of design, and these students not only completed the design process but also accessed much of the information that would help them to make their games. However, these students also did not completely create their games, despite completing the design process and having most of the information they would need at their fingertips.