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Assessed the effects of learning computer programming on the cognitive style (reflectivity, divergent thinking), metacognitive ability, cognitive development (operation competence, general cognitive measures), and ability to describe directions of 18 1st graders. Ss were pretested to assess receptive vocabulary (PPVT—R), impulsivity/reflectivity, and divergent thinking (the Figural Test of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking). Ss were randomly assigned to computer programming or computer-assisted instruction for 12 wks. Posttesting included the McCarthy Screening Test and measures of awareness of comprehension failure, operational competence, and describing directions. Results show that the programming group scored significantly higher on measures of reflectivity and divergent thinking. This group outperformed the computer-assisted group on measures of metacognitive ability and ability to describe directions. No differences were found on measures of cognitive development. It is concluded that computer programming can increase some aspects of problem-solving ability. (26 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Journal
of
Educational
Psychology
1984,
Vol.
76,
No,
6,1051-1058
Copyright
1984
by the
American
Psychological
Association,
Inc.
Effects
of
Computer
Programming
on
Young
Children's
Cognition
Douglas
H.
Clements
and
Dominic
F.
Gullo
Kent
State
University
-
Computers
will
soon
be an
integral
part
of the
classroom
and
home
environ-
ment
of
children,
yet
there
are
unanswered
questions
concerning
their
effects
on
young
children's
cognition;
Particularly
salient
are
largely
unsubstantiat-
ed
claims
concerning
the
cognitive
benefits
of
computer
programming.
This
study
assessed
the
effects
of
learning
computer
programming
on
children's
cognitive
style
(reflectivity,
divergent
thinking),
metacognitive
ability,
cogni-
tive
development
(operational
competence,
general
cognitive
measures),
and
ability
to
describe
directions.
Eighteen
6-year-old
children
were
pretested
to
assess
receptive
vocabulary,
impulsivity/reflectivity,
and
divergent-thinking
abilities.
The
children
were
then
randomly
assigned
to one of two
treatments,
computer
programming
or
computer-assisted
instruction
(CAI),
that
lasted
12
weeks.
Posttesting
revealed
that
the
programming
group
scored
significantly
higher
on
measures
of
reflectivity
and on two
measures
of
divergent
thinking,
whereas
the CAI
group
showed
no
significant
pre-
to
posttest
differences.
The
programming
group
outperformed
the CAI
group
on
measures
of
meta-
cognitive
ability
and
ability
to
describe
directions.
No
differences
were
found
on
measures
of
cognitive
development.
The
increasing acceptance
of the
critical
necessity
for
children
to
become computer
literate
is
leading
to an
increased promi-
nence
of
computers
in the
home
and
school
environment.
Yet
there
are
unanswered
questions regarding
the
effects
of
computer
use on
children's thinking.
The
purpose
of
this
study
was to
investigate
the
effects
of
computer programming
on
6-year
:
old
chil-
dren's
cognitive style, metacognitive abili-
ties,
cognitive development,
and
ability
to
describe directions.
Seymour
Papert,
one of the
creators
of the
computer
language Logo
and a
leading
ex-
ponent
of the use of
computer programming
to
expand children's intellectual power,
based
his
ideas
on the
theories
of
Piaget,
with whom
he
studied.
Papert
(1980)
has
argued
that
the
most beneficial learning
is
what
he
calls
"Piagetian
learning,"
or
"learning without being
taught."
He has
proposed
that
computer programming
en-
vironments
can
create conditions under
which
intellectual
models
take
root,
condi-
tions
in
which young children
can
master
Requests
for
reprints
should
be
sent
to
Douglas
H.
Clements,
College
of
Education,
401
White Hall, Kent
State
University,
Kent,
Ohio
44242.
notions formerly thought
too
abstract
for
their developmental level. Computers
can
make
the
abstract
concrete
and
personal
as
they help children learn more
effectively
by
making
their thinking processes conscious.
By
programming
the
computer
to do
what
they want
it to do,
children must reflect
on
how
one
might
do the
task oneself,
and
therefore,
on how
they themselves think
(Papert,
1980).
The
computer program-
ming
environment holds
the
promise
of be-
ing
an
effective
device
for
cognitive process
instruction—teaching
how, rather than
what,
to
think (Lochhead
&
Clement, 1979).
Although
this
is a
relatively
new
area,
some research
has
been done.
Pilot
work
by
the
developers
of the
Logo computer lan-
guage
and
others (Papert, 1980;
Papert,
Watt,
diSessa,
&
Weir, 1979) indicates
that
children
can
learn
to
program
and
seem
to
profit
intellectually. However, most
of
this
work
has,
of
necessity, been exploratory
in
nature,
and
much
of it has
been conducted
with older children
(e.g.,
12-year-olds).
Gorman
and
Bourne (1983) reported
that
third-grade children
who
worked
for 1
hour
a
week
on
Logo programming performed
significantly
better
on a
test
of
rule
learning
than
did
children with
J
/2
hour
a
week
of
1051
1052
DOUGLAS
H.
CLEMENTS
AND
DOMINIC
F.
GULLO
programming
experience. There
is
some
evidence
that
programming
can
increase
problem-solving
ability (Billings, 1983;
Milner,
1973; Soloway,
Lochhead,
&
Cle-
ment,
1982;
Statz,
1974).
Other
reports
in-
dicate
that
considerable variability
in
skill
levels attained
by
individual children exists
and
that
children's programming ability
is
often
limited
to
specific contexts (Pea,
Hawkins,
&
Sheingold,
1983).
The
little
controlled research
that
exists
gives only general
directions
concerning
the
possible cognitive benefits
of
programming.
However,
a few
exploratory hypotheses
can
be
advanced:
1. In
Logo
programming,
children invent,
construct,
and
modify
their
own
projects;
therefore,
Logo programming might
facili-
tate
divergent thinking.
2.
Because Logo
is
designed
to
encourage
children
to
reflect
on how
they think, pro-
gramming should lead them
to
develop
me-
tacognitive
abilities, especially
the
ability
to
realize
when
they
do and do not
understand
instructions.
3.
Similarly, Logo programming
may de-
velop
reflectivity
in
children
as
they
think
about their errors
and how to
correct
them.
4.
If
computer programming
can
allow
children
to
master ideas formerly thought
too
abstract
for
their developmental level,
it
may
accelerate cognitive development,
in-
cluding operational competence
(Papert,
1980).
5.
Finally, because Logo programming
involves
giving
explicit
spatial
commands,
it
should increase children's ability
to de-
scribe directions
from
their
own
and
others'
perspectives.
It is
possible,
of
course,
that
any
benefits
derived
from
computer programming
can be
attributed
to
interactive experiences with
computers,
rather
than
to the
programming
activity
per se. It
would therefore
be
nec-
essary
to
provide
a
control group with com-
puter experience
not
involving computer
programming.
Such experience might
consist
of
computer-assisted instruction
(CAI).
CAI,
with
its
roots
in
programmed
learning,
has a
strong
connection
to the be-
havioristic tradition. Emerging
from
three
themes
of
learning
theory—individualiza-
tion, behavioral objectives,
and
educational
technology (Baker,
1978)—many
CAI
pro-
grams
employ
the
approach
of
programmed
learning.
Thus they share
the
following
characteristics:
(a)
They store
a
sequenced
series
of
experiences, often providing
alter-
native learning paths
for
individuals;
(b)
they
offer
independent pacing
for
individu-
als;
(c)
they
give
subjects controlled, con-
tingent
reinforcement;
and (d)
they evaluate
performance quickly
and
accurately
to
pro-
vide
data
on the
degree
of
mastery. Some
research
has
been
conducted
on the
feasi-
bility
and
efficacy
of
using
CAI
with young
children.
It has
been
found
that
computers
can
effectively teach beginning skills
and
concepts (Billings, 1983; Hungate, 1982;
Swigger
&
Campbell,
1981).
This study investigated
the
effects
of ex-
periences
in
computer programming (Logo),
compared
to
experiences
in
computer-as-
sisted instruction,
on
6-year-old children's
cognitive
style
(reflectivity,
divergent
thinking),
metacognitive ability, cognitive
development (operational competence,
general
cognitive measures),
and
ability
to
describe directions. Because
the
focus
was
on
the
effects
of
programming experience
on
cognition,
no
measures
of
standard
achievement
were
employed.
Method
Subjects
Subjects
for the
study were
18
first-grade children
(mean
age,
6
years
11
months)
from
a
middle-class,
midwestern
school system. Children were randomly
assigned
to one of two
treatment
groups: computer-
assisted
instruction (CAI)
and
computer programming
(Logo).
By
chance, each group contained
5
boys
and
4
girls.
Procedure
Subjects were pretested
to
determine pretreatment
level
of
receptive vocabulary,
reflectivity,
and
divergent
thinking,
using
the
instruments
described
in the
next
section.
The
computer activities
were
then imple-
mented
in two
40-min
sessions
a
week
for 12
weeks.
Children worked
in
groups
of 2 or 3
with
one of the re-
searchers. Researchers worked with both
the
pro-
gramming
and the CAI
groups
so
that
posttest
differ-
ences
between
the
groups
would
not be an
artifact
of
differential
adult interaction.
At the end of
12
weeks,
posttests
were administered
to
assess children's
cogni-
tive
style
(reflectivity
and
divergent
thinking),
meta-
cognitive
ability, cognitive development (operational
EFFECTS
OF
PROGRAMMING
1053
competence
and
general cognitive measures),
and
ability
to
describe
directions.
Instruments
The
following
areas
of
cognition
were
assessed
by the
instruments
listed.
Receptive
vocabulary.
The
Peabody Picture
Vo-
cabulary
Test—Revised,
Form
L
(PPVT—R;
Dunn
&
Dunn, 1981)
was
administered
as a
pretest
measure
of
receptive vocabulary (internal consistency reliability
for
the
appropriate age,
r =
.77). Dunn
and
Dunn
(1981) also
state
that
the
PPVT—R
is a
useful
measure
of
one
aspect
of
language
and
cognition
that
suggests
the
level
of
present
functioning
of the
child.
Reflectivity-impulsivity.
As a
measure
of
reflec-
tivity,
the
Matching Familiar
Figures
Test
(MFFT;
Kagan,
Rossman,
Day, Albert,
&
Phillips,
1964)
was
administered.
In the
MFFT,
the
child
is
presented
with
a
picture
of a
familiar
object together with
an
array
of
highly similar variants. Only
one of the
pictures
in
the
second array
is an
exact duplicate
of the
first.
The
child's task
is to
select
the
variant
that
is
identical
to the
standard.
Two
measures
are
reported:
the
time
in
seconds
it
takes
the
child
to
choose
the
first picture
(latency time)
and the
number
of
errors
the
child makes
before
choosing
the
correct
standard.
There
are 12
items altogether,
and the
latency score
and
error score
provide
a
measure
of
reflective thinking.
Alternate
forms
of the
MFFT
were used
for
pre-
and
posttesting.
Reported
test-retest
reliabilities
for
latency have ranged
from
,58 to
.96;
for
error, they ranged
from
.39 to .80
(Messer,
1976).
Divergent
thinking.
As a
measure
of
divergent
thinking,
the
Torrance
Test
of
Creative
Thinking
Figural
Test
(Torrance, 1972)
was
administered.
The
Torrance
test
measures
the
ability
of the
child
to
think
divergently
in a
nonverbal mode.
It
measures this
ability
in
four
ways:
fluency—how
many original ideas
the
child
had
(test-retest
reliability,
r =
.71); flexibil-
ity—how
varied these ideas were
one
from
the
other
(r
=
.73);
originality—how
original
the
ideas were when
compared
to a
normative group
(r =
.85);
and
elabora-
tion—how
many
details
were added
to the
main idea
(r
=
.83). Alternate
forms
of the
Torrance
test
were used
for
pre-
and
posttesting.
Awareness
of
comprehension failure. Markman
(1977) developed
two
tasks
whose purpose
it was to
measure children's ability
to
monitor
and
evaluate their
own
cognitive
processes
(metacognition).
Two
tasks
are
presented
that
are
incomprehensible
to all
subjects.
Children
are
presented instructions
on how to
perform
a
task,
but
crucial information
for
executing
the
task
is
deleted.
The
question
is
whether children realize they
do
not
understand.
In the
first
task,
eight
alphabet
cards
are
divided equally between
the
experimenter
and
the
child.
Directions provided
to the
child include each
player laying
out one
card
at a
time, looking
for the
"special
card."
However,
there
is no
mention
of
what
the
special
card might
be. The
second task involves
a
similarly incomplete description
of a
magic trick.
Ten
questions
are
asked
in an
attempt
to
ascertain whether
the
child realizes
his or her
lack
of
complete compre-
hension. Once
the
subject verbalizes
a
relevant ques-
tion
or
statement
the
procedure
is
terminated. Mark-
man's (1977) criteria
for
relevancy were employed.
Interrater
agreement
was
95%,
and
test-retest
reliability
was
.73.
The
questions provide increasingly
specific
prompts;
for
example, Question
1 is
"That's
it.
Those
are my
instructions"; Question
2 is
"What
do you
think?";
Question
9 is
"Did
I
forget
to
tell
you
any-
thing?"
The
children's score
is the
number
of the
question
at
which they indicate they realize
that
they
do
not
understand; scores range
from
1 to 11 (11
indi-
cates
the
child never asked
a
question). Thus
a
lower
number
represents higher ability
to
monitor one's
comprehension.
Operational
competence
(classification
and
seria-
tion).
To
assess children's abilities
in the
logical
op-
erations
of
classification
and
seriation,
four
tasks
were
presented
to
them. These tasks were based
on
proce-
dures developed
by
Inhelder
and
Piaget (1969)
and are
described
in
Clements
(1983a).
The
classification tasks
included
(a)
free
classification
(four
items—sorting
and
resorting geometric shapes
and
familiar objects con-
sistently
(selecting three
or
more objects sharing logical
attributes)
and
exhaustively (grouping
all
objects
that
possess
an
attribute)
and (b)
class inclusion
(four
items)—identifying
the
superordinate
set
as
more
nu-
merous
than
the
larger subordinate
set
(internal con-
sistency reliability,
r =
.75).
The
seriation tasks
in-
cluded
(a)
seriation
(five
items)—ordering
a
series
of
objects
by
length,
and (b)
insertion
(four
items)—in-
serting
a new
object into
an
existing series
(r
=
.81).
The
items were added
for a
possible
test
score
of 8
for
classification
and 9 for
seriation.
General
cognitive measures. Four subtests
of the
McCarthy Screening
Test
(MST; McCarthy, 1978)
were
used
as
measures
of
cognitive development.
The MST
is a
norm-referenced instrument adapted
from
the
McCarthy
Scales
of
Children's Abilities (McCarthy,
1972)
whose purpose
it is to
assess
children's perfor-
mance
on
several cognitive measures known
to be im-
portantly related
to
school functioning.
The
four
subtests
were
(a)
right-left
orientation
(internal con-
sistency reliability,
r =
.32);
(b)
verbal
memory
(r =
.54);
(c)
draw-a-design
(r =
.67);
and (d)
numerical memory
(r
=
.69).
Describing
directions.
To
determine children's
ability