Learning to program with Game Maker



  • Claire Johnson


IT, Computing, Computer game design, programming


Game Maker is widely used in UK secondary schools, yet under-researched in that context. This paper presents the findings of a qualitative case study that explores how authoring computer games using Game Maker can support the learning of basic programming concepts in a mainstream UK secondary setting.  The research draws on the learning theory of constructionism, which asserts the importance of pupils using computers as ‘building material’ to create digital artefacts (Papert, 1980; Harel and Papert, 1991), and considers the extent to which a constructionist approach is suitable for introducing basic programming concepts within a contemporary, game authoring context.  The research was conducted in a high achieving comprehensive school in South East England. Twenty-two pupils (12 boys; 10 girls; 13-14 years old) completed a unit of work in computer game authoring over an eight-week (16 x 50 minute lessons) period. In planning and developing their games, they worked in self-selected pairs, apart from two pupils (one boy and one girl) who worked alone, by choice. Nine of the ten pairs were the same gender. Data were collected in planning documents, journals and the games pupils made, in recordings of their working conversations, and in pair, group and artefact-based interviews. Findings indicate that as well as learning some basic programming concepts, pupils enjoyed the constructionist-designed activity, demonstrated positive attitudes to their work, and felt a sense of achievement in creating a complex artefact that had personal and cultural significance for them. However, the findings also suggest that the constructionist approach adopted in the research did not effectively support the learning of programming concepts for all pupils. This research arises out of a perceived need to develop accessible, extended units of work to implement aspects of the Computing curriculum in England. It suggests that using Game Maker may offer a viable entry, and identifies the programming concepts and practices which pupils encountered, the difficulties they experienced, and the errors they made when authoring computer games. It also offers recommendations to increase the readiness with which students engage with key programming concepts and practices when using this visual programming software. In so doing it makes a practical contribution to the field of qualitative research in secondary computing education.



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Author Biography

Claire Johnson

Claire Johnson, teacher of IT & Computing. This paper grows out of a chapter in my PhD thesis ‘I liked it but it made you think too much’: a case study of computer game authoring in the Key Stage 3 ICT curriculum. PhD thesis, University of East Anglia, UK, 2014.


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How to Cite

Johnson, C. (2017). Learning to program with Game Maker. International Journal of Computer Science Education in Schools, 1(2), 17–37. https://doi.org/10.21585/ijcses.v1i2.5