ENGAGE is a game-based learning environment for middle grade students designed to develop computational thinking skills and broaden interest in computer science. It is a collaborative puzzle game featuring a rich narrative, dynamic characters, and situated problem-solving activities to achieve computer science learning objectives. Students play the game in pairs and are challenged to work together to manipulate objects and program devices in a real-time environment to solve puzzles in order to advance through the game. The game is set in an undersea research station, where players must regain control of the station after it is captured by a nemesis, Dr. Murdock, who wishes to thwart the research being conducted there. Students play the role of a field agent charged with retaking control of the research station and figuring out Dr. Murdock’s plans.


The ENGAGE project combines game-based and classroom-based learning and problem-solving activities that integrate a computer science curriculum with an ocean science curriculum. The ENGAGE curriculum adapts selections of the Computer Science Principles curriculum (originally designed by the College Board for high school students) to be appropriate for middle grade students. It also draws upon the North Carolina Standard Course of Study and Common Core for science and math, as well as themes in the new Next Generation Science Standards that emphasize computational thinking and problem-based learning. Classroom activities support and extend the Computer Science Principles covered within the game, introduce students to key oceanography concepts and problems, and integrate these two to encourage students to think computationally about solving real-world ocean oceanography problems.

gamesloginThe project’s research centers on investigating the effectiveness of the ENGAGE game-based learning framework for students learning about computer science, as well as its impact on computing interest and self-efficacy, particularly for underrepresented groups. ENGAGE is currently being piloted as an elective course at middle schools in Wake County, North Carolina. The project team is working with students and teachers to develop a fun and engaging game narrative, an immersive problem-solving environment within the game, and classroom activities that allow students to explore computer science principles in the context of oceanography.


Teacher and Student Feedback about ENGAGE:

“This has been one of the most incredibly rich experiences that our students have been involved with”

As a teacher, I was happy to be part of developing the story line and curriculum. I could actively see [it] keeping my students ENGAGEd”

“I enjoyed working with my partner because he helped me when I was trying to figure the game out.”

“It was very fun to have advice and someone to help during challenges.”

“I think my partner … did well, because she was determined, and confident. I also thought that computer science and programming would help.”


Support for ENGAGE is provided by the National Science Foundation through Grant CNS-1138497. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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