Learning to navigate

At the CSTA Conference, I had the opportunity to proctor the session “Blast Off with Space Battle:  The Real-Time, Networked, Space Simulation Programming Project” presented by Brett Wortzman and Michael Hawker.

With a title that long and descriptive, I just knew that it had to be good.

And it really was.

Essentially, they recommend tackling something like this with students after they’ve written the AP CS exam.  By the time, students will have a solid background in Java and may be looking for an interesting way to apply their knowledge.

In a nutshell, here’s what happens.

The teacher downloads and runs “Space” on a host machine and it sits there looking for clients (students) to navigate their space.

Students, at their own stations, name and control their spaceship using their knowledge of Java within the Space environment.  The suggested timeline is given in terms of weeks but most of our room was up and navigating within the three hour session.

Participants were involved in the game “Find the Middle”.  Below, you’ll see the space and a number of spacecraft navigating in real time.  Their challenge?  They had to navigate their craft into the centre ring below.  To make things easier for learners, the dangers of the sun or collisions with others was turned off.  Oh, and the Space Dragon too.

Just like in the movies, they navigated with thrusters and there was no friction or gravity so it took the careful hands of a programmer to slow their spacecraft.  It was more challenging than you might think.  But, the engagement of the entire room was testament to the quality of the activity.

Some of the commands needed to master the task:

  • IdleCommand(double)
  • RotateCommand(int)
  • ThrustCommand(char, double, double)
  • BrakeCommand(double)


The project is supported here – “Space Battle Arena” with all the downloads and detailed documentation to make it happen.


One comment

  1. Thanks for proctoring Doug! We had a Blast too! 🙂

    It’s important to note that the ships are entirely controlled by Java code, no joysticks here!

    We typically see completing this initial “Find The Middle” activity by the end of week one, from start to finish, with the majority of a classroom on board. We expect our students to take a bit more time than the three hour crash-course we put our teachers through. We’d then spend the following 2-3 weeks, in a classroom environment, completing another couple of more complex missions. But everything is scalable and targetable to an individual class to configure ‘space’ to be as forgiving or challenging as possible.

    One of our final cross-school competition videos can be found here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/154627138


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