Choose your own adventure in computational thinking

A recent post by Andy Ko (here) provided several interesting ideas on literacy and coding, all which begin with “If learning to code were like learning to write…” This reminded Mark Guzdial (here) of Mike Horn’s work on computational sticker books (here).  As Mark pointed out, Mike asks the question, “If computational literacy were integrated into our daily lives, how would parent and child do computation while reading a book at bedtime?” This made me think about Choose Your Own Adventure Books.

The Computational Thinking possibilities introduced by CYOA books are many (from Wikipedia):

The stories are formatted so that, after a couple of pages of reading, the protagonist faces two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings. The number of endings is not set, and varies from as many as 40 in the early titles, to as few as 12 in later adventures. Likewise, there is no clear pattern among the various titles regarding the number of pages per ending, the ratio of good to bad endings, or the reader’s progression backwards and forwards through the pages of the book. This allows for a realistic sense of unpredictability, and leads to the possibility of repeat readings, which is one of the distinguishing features of the books.

What other CT and mathematical concepts could be learned from CYOA books?

  • Algorithms
  • Determinism
  • Logic
  • Conditionals
  • Randomness
  • Flow of Control
  • Branching
  • Probability

What about programming concepts? It wouldn’t take a significant deviation from the traditional CYOA device ‘if this, go to page x, if that, go to page y‘, to move towards:

  • Loops, including infinite
  • Recursion
  • Nesting
  • Inheritance
  • Threading
  • Parallelism

Indeed, CYOA books have already been related to:

I really enjoyed the above page on visualizations, which  led me to the excellent work of Christian Swinehart on multiple data views of twelve CYOA books, a project that took 13 months to complete, and mentions CYOA relationships to hypertext, memory access, finite state machines, and even Easter eggs.

It so happens that Jeff Atwood, founder of stackoverflow.com (and many other things) describes his own decision to leave his job and start stackoverflow as choosing his own adventure.

Of course, in order to champion CYOA books as a device to instill computational thinking, purists would have to prepare a way to carefully handle the fact that CYOA books contain liberal amounts of Goto statements!

If the above doesn’t convince you that in some respects CYOA books were ahead of their time, this might – they were consciously non-gender specific – over 30 years ago.

For anyone who wants to write their own CYOA, there’s an app for that, which makes many aspects of CYOA authorship difficult (such as tracking down loose ends) much easier.

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