A Trip to the Science Center
This past Saturday, I went with Jordana to the Science Center to observe kids using Looking Glass. It was pretty helpful to see firsthand what issues kids had with getting started and understanding the program.
After talking about ideas with Jordana, we tried to separate confusing aspects into 3 parts- Language, Interaction, and Visual. Language would deal with the exact words used. For example, some of the actions like "setVehicle" don't do what children expect, and some words, like "TextString", "Procedure", and "Function" just go over childrens' heads entirely. Interaction would be how the program responds to the user's input. We noticed that kids sometimes had difficulty when they clicked *near* a character, and accidentally selected the world instead. Finally, Visual would be the feedback they receive, and how well what they see directs them to what they need to do.
I noticed that kids sometimes had trouble getting started, and it seemed like the first things they'd see are words like "procedure", and get stuck when they click it without knowing what it is. Applying my approach to this, I can see a few ideas on where to go with it. The language could be altered, to use "Simple Actions", "Detailed Actions", and "Action Sets" instead of methods and procedures. We could also change the wording of more confusing actions. We could also make the interaction simpler, say by having an action move into place at the end of the method by default when it is clicked, so that it's clearer where the actions need to go. (They could then be rearranged as needed.) We could also reorder things visually, listing the Simple Actions prominently, starting with the ones that are most familiar and intuitive (like "walk" and "say", which kids tend to fele comfortable with), and tucking the more complicated options away where they can be found by experienced kids who know to look for them, but not be stumbled upon by a confused beginner.
Other general ideas I have are just making the one-to-one correspondence between an action that is written and what it does in the story more clear, since it seemed kids liked to clearly see what their actions are doing and this would also help connect the two and cement the idea of a command representing a movement or change in the scene; creating popular Simple Actions of our own, like "bend knee" and "raise arm" that might be common to a lot of scenes and help kids make the jump from walking and speaking focused scenes to those with more detailed actions; and finally, a possible idea of a user study, in which we have kids work with Looking Glass, and later explain what they did to someone else (a family member or friend), to see what language they use and what features they intrinsically focus on. That might give us a better general idea of what features click with kids and which ones don't.