Education Professors Invent Soccer Game to Spark Students' Interest in Engineering, Computer Science

An interactive, computer soccer game designed to spur middle and high school students' interest in computer science and engineering and teach basic computer programming skills has been developed by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Dr. Taylor Martin at The University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Matthew Berland in the University of Texas at San Antonio's Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching have received a three-year, $474,000 National Science Foundation grant to design the software application for the interactive learning tool. The soccer game, called "IPRO," allows users to control the movements of an individual player on a soccer field by using a simplified visual programming language, and it can be played on Apple iPhones or iPod Touches.

"Programming a soccer-playing robot and then letting it loose is fun for students," said Martin, an associate professor in the College of Education's Department of Curriculum and Instruction, "especially when they're competing with and against their classmates. The challenge of getting their robot to do what they want builds on fundamental concepts from programming and computer science. Also, the larger task of identifying a problem and devising a solution, sometimes as a team, is much like the design and problem-solving work of engineers in all disciplines."

Martin and Berland hope to leverage the burgeoning interest among youth in robotic competitions and camps by introducing IPRO to sixth through 12th grade students.

"While only a fraction of these students may go on to major in computer science," said Martin, "an ability to consider problems from a programming or computational perspective is becoming increasingly vital in many technical fields. And, of course, students don't need to wait until college for this, as a familiarity with the programming and problem-solving concepts from IPRO can allow them to explore ideas from science and math courses they currently are taking. For example, a student might deepen her understanding of Newton's laws by creating a simple simulation of them."