Friday, 22 September 2017

The Tessera - A Computational Thinking Game for Teens

The Tessera is a free to play online story-based educational game to teach computational thinking to teenagers. Computational thinking is the set of skills you need to go from a problem to a computer system that solves it. This is an important skill-set that is needed along with coding.

The game has a spookily atmospheric storyline which is communicated by Ada Lovelace. It has a Victorian steampunk aesthetic with fantastic graphics.

Note: The Tessera is partially funded by the National Science Foundation, and is a collaboration between teams at Brigham Young University, the University of Maryland, Tinder Transmedia, and the Computer History Museum (Mountain View, CA.)


 The Tessera - An Alternate Reality Game from Tinder Transmedia on Vimeo.


The game is designed to be used in classrooms (or live sessions at the Computer History Museum) but can also be played at home.

I've played through quite a bit of the game and it's very well put together. It's difficult. Some levels are easier if you have a small team of players but thinking is required. The puzzles require logical thinking to solve problems within a limited time.

The game is designed for teens aged 13-15 and that seems about the right age, with it also being relevant to older players. My older son who is almost 11 enjoyed playing through part of the game with me. He was very capable of solving the puzzles once he understood what was required (and faster than me in some kinds of thinking!) but didn't want to repeat puzzles when the time ran out. Resilience is needed!

There's a chat feature where players can ask for clues if they get stuck and where you can find some hints if needed.

It's important to note that while the educational aspect of the game is deep, other aspects have not been neglected. The story is compelling and the graphics are excellent. As an adventure game (and I've played a lot!) it comes out pretty well.

Throughout the game you collect cards that tell you about important characters from the history of computing and technology. The creators have really made the effort to pull together a diverse set of influencers. We think it's important for young people to understand where today's technology came from so this is a great feature. (As a player, I really wanted to find all the cards and see who they had included!)

The game also requires you to go outside the game and find information in a few places which I really liked.

Does the Tessera teach computational thinking? Well, there's certainly plenty of pattern recognition and pattern matching, problem decomposition, efficiency, accuracy, algorithm design and logical thinking. This is actually the case in a lot of adventure games and escape the room style games. The computing link is much more explicit here with problems having a clearer link to techniques and concepts that are used in computer science. The game itself doesn't explicitly teach you computational thinking skills (though they can be introduced explicitly in a classroom setting with the game) but it definitely provides the opportunity to discover and practice them and importantly, to find out if you enjoy that style of thinking.

There's a Tessera Guide for Educators which explains the game and how to obtain additional resources for classroom use.

While coding is a useful skill, it's a small part of computing and it's great to see the increasing focus on computational thinking.


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