Conference PaperPDF Available

Training Computational Thinking: Game-Based Unplugged and Plugged-in Activities in Primary School

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

Computational thinking (CT) denotes the idea of developing a generic solution to a problem by decomposing it, identifying relevant variables and patterns, and deriving an algorithmic solution procedure. As a general problem solving strategy, it has been suggested a fundamental cognitive competence to be acquired in education-comparable to literacy and numeracy. However, integrating CT into general curricula has been challenging. Therefore, the current project aims at developing an extra-curricular training of CT for primary school students. From a literature review we identified seven concepts central to CT: i) sequencing, ii) loops, iii) parallelism, iv) events, v) conditionals, vi) operators, and vii) data/variables. In our targeted educational training program, we will specifically address these concepts (which are shared concepts between CT and programming / computer science education) in 2-step procedures using corresponding game-based unplugged and plugged-in activities. Playful unplugged activities, such as a treasure hunt board game for the concept of using variables as placeholders for information, shall allow students getting a first grip on CT processes by actively engaging them. In the game, a treasure is to be hunted by completing a series of arithmetic operations, in which players have to handle different variables (e.g., dice faces, scores, etc.). Building on this unplugged activity, a related plugged-in scenario is a programmable simulation of rain drops filling a glass. While raindrop and glass volume are constants, the fill level of the glass may be the variable to manipulate. In both kinds of activities we aim at clarifying the association between CT-based solving real-life problems and aspects of different STEM disciplines. The series of unplugged and plugged-in activities are integrated into a gamified approach suitable for primary school children, employing badges for mastering specific CT processes to increase students' engagement and for giving feedback about their learning progress. The instructional design will integrate principles of constructionism, game-based and project-based learning, such that students will construct knowledge through playing and interacting with interdisciplinary educational scenarios. The course will be empirically evaluated with 3rd and 4th graders in primary schools. Thereby, the idea of evidence-based instruction is pursued to ensure efficiency and validity of our training.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Training Computational Thinking: Game-Based Unplugged and
Plugged-in Activities in Primary School
Katerina Tsarava1, Korbinian Moeller1,2,3, Niels Pinkwart4, Martin Butz5, Ulrich Trautwein6,3
and Manuel Ninaus1,3
1Leibniz Institut für Wissensmedien, Germany
2Department of Psychology, University of Tübingen, Germany
3LEAD Graduate School and Research Network, University of Tübingen, Germany
4Department of Computer Science, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
5Department of Computer Science, University of Tübingen, Germany
6Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology, University of Tübingen,
Germany
k.tsarava@iwm-tuebingen.de
k.moeller@iwm-tuebingen.de
pinkwart@hu-berlin.de
martin.butz@uni-tuebingen.de
u.trautwein@uni-tuebingen.de
m.ninaus@iwm-tuebingen.de
Abstract: Computational thinking (CT) denotes the idea of developing a generic solution to a problem by decomposing it,
identifying relevant variables and patterns, and deriving an algorithmic solution procedure. As a general problem solving
strategy, it has been suggested a fundamental cognitive competence to be acquired in education - comparable to literacy
and numeracy. However, integrating CT into general curricula has been challenging. Therefore, the current project aims at
developing an extra-curricular training of CT for primary school students. From a literature review we identified seven
concepts central to CT: i) sequencing, ii) loops, iii) parallelism, iv) events, v) conditionals, vi) operators, and vii) data/variables.
In our targeted educational training program, we will specifically address these concepts (which are shared concepts
between CT and programming / computer science education) in 2-step procedures using corresponding game-based
unplugged and plugged-in activities. Playful unplugged activities, such as a treasure hunt board game for the concept of using
variables as placeholders for information, shall allow students getting a first grip on CT processes by actively engaging them.
In the game, a treasure is to be hunted by completing a series of arithmetic operations, in which players have to handle
different variables (e.g., dice faces, scores, etc.). Building on this unplugged activity, a related plugged-in scenario is a
programmable simulation of rain drops filling a glass. While raindrop and glass volume are constants, the fill level of the glass
may be the variable to manipulate. In both kinds of activities we aim at clarifying the association between CT-based solving
real-life problems and aspects of different STEM disciplines. The series of unplugged and plugged-in activities are integrated
into a gamified approach suitable for primary school children, employing badges for mastering specific CT processes to
increase students’ engagement and for giving feedback about their learning progress. The instructional design will integrate
principles of constructionism, game-based and project-based learning, such that students will construct knowledge through
playing and interacting with interdisciplinary educational scenarios. The course will be empirically evaluated with 3rd and
4th graders in primary schools. Thereby, the idea of evidence-based instruction is pursued to ensure efficiency and validity
of our training.
Keywords: computational thinking, programming, coding, unplugged activities, game-based learning, gamification
1. Introduction
In recent years, there is growing emphasis on the importance of computer programming or coding skills as 21st
century skills (Wing, 2006, 2010; NRC, 2011). For STEM disciplines, in particular, programming/coding has been
argued to be an indispensable instrument for solving complex problems or increasing efficiency through
automation (Wing, 2010). Thus, fostering those relevant skills early on in education seems a desirable
prerequisite, preparing children for current and future demands of our knowledge societies, spanning from job
requirements to leisure time activities. Against this background, the current article proposes an educational
course and training for 3rd and 4th-graders to foster programming/coding skills. However, in contrast to most
similar courses, we take a more cognitive skill-oriented approach, integrating the training of
programming/coding skills into the conceptual theoretical framework of computational thinking (henceforth
CT), by employing 2-step procedures using unplugged and plugged-in activities. Moreover, we embedded this in
a game-based constructivist pedagogical approach with the aim of introducing CT to young students (by means
687
Katerina Tsarava et al.
of coding). CT as an overarching cognitive skill is closely related to the different STEM disciplines (e.g., Sanders,
2009). Thus, CT allows for an interdisciplinary perspective on the use of actual coding skills to solve real world
problems. Accordingly, the main contribution of this study will be the development of an integrated framework
that fosters coding competence as a practical skill and CT competence as a conceptual cognitive skill.
In the following, we will first elaborate on the close association between programming/coding as a practical and
CT as a cognitive skill, before highlighting the relevance of CT for modern educational programs. We then provide
a short overview of existing coding and CT trainings, followed by a detailed description of the training we
developed to foster coding in 3rd and 4th-graders and a brief conclusion.
1.1 Coding and computational thinking
Computer programming – also referred to as coding – has been coined a crucial 21st century skill due to the
constantly increasing need to keep up with the growing impact of information and communication technologies
(henceforth ICT) on human activities. ICT have become prevalent in many facets of everyday life, like production,
health and education, security, job requirements, but also leisure time activities etc. This is reflected in latest
interest of scientific organizations and also governments (e.g., European Schoolnet, European Coding Initiative)
all over the world on the establishment of an effective framework for introducing ICT, coding, and CT skills to
students already at a young age. Although these three terms share common meanings, they should not be
confused as identical. ICT skills refer to general skills related to the use of computer devices and relevant digital
content, like software, digital documents, etc. In contrast, coding skills describe the practical ability to write and
design software programs as functional computer applications. Finally, CT denotes more general cognitive
problem solving skills based on systematic and computationally oriented procedures (Balanskat & Engelhardt,
2015). Each of these skills is important not only to become a competent user of ICT, but also to be able to meet
the needs of our increasingly digitized world. However, while programming/coding is considered a more
practical skill, we want to emphasize that CT reflects a broader cognitive concept that is fundamentally critical
for becoming computationally literate, besides the fact that at least rudimentary CT is essential for the
acquisition of more practical coding skills (Balanskat & Engelhardt 2015; Garcia-Peñalvo et al., 2016). At the same
time, fostering CT, detached from coding, might result in rather subpar and abstract educational scenarios. This
fact supports latest efforts and increased interest into fostering CT as a conceptual cognitive skill, that can be
applied interdisciplinarily in different domains over the mere training of practical skills, such as coding (e.g.,
Yadav et. al, 2016; see also Figure 1).
Being able to code reflects the “21st century vision of students who are not just computer users but also
computationally literate creators” (https://k12cs.org/). Unsurprisingly, ideas to specifically promote and teach
coding abilities already starting in primary school have become increasingly popular (e.g., Balanskat &
Engelhardt, 2015; https://code.org/). Central concepts in coding are the generic ideas of sequencing, loops,
parallelism, events, conditionals, operators, and data/variables (e.g., Brennan & Resnick, 2012). Interestingly,
coding as a practical skill shares these concepts with the psychological construct of CT as a cognitive skill (see
Figure 2). Computational Thinking is construed as “the thought processes involved in formulating problems and
their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an
information-processing agent” (Cuny et al., 2010). CT denotes the idea of developing a generic solution to a
problem by decomposing it, identifying relevant variables and patterns, and deriving an algorithmic solution
procedure (e.g., Wing, 2006; Kazimoglu, 2013). In fact, this closely resembles the proceeding in coding. As such,
code is usually organized in loops of sequences of defined events, that involve specific operations performed on
the to-be defined variables. Correspondingly, CT skills specifically draw on processes such as algorithmic
thinking, conditional logic, decomposition, abstraction, pattern matching, parallelization, evaluation, and
generalization (e.g. Wing, 2010; Briggs, 2014); thereby reflecting cognitive instantiations of concepts central to
coding. Importantly, these concepts as well as their cognitive counterparts in CT are not to be understood as
domain-specific in the sense that they can only be applied to the domain of computer science. Instead, CT should
be viewed as a much more general problem solving strategy, which can be applied to different domains over
and beyond computer science (e.g., deductive reasoning). Therefore, CT has been suggested a fundamental
cognitive competence that should be acquired in education – comparable to literacy and numeracy (Yadav et
al., 2014).
688
Katerina Tsarava et al.
Figure 1: Illustration of Google trends over the course of time, for the search terms “computational thinking”
and “programming skills”. Worldwide interest (y-axis) reflects search interest of the corresponding
topic relative to the highest point in the chart (https://trends.google.com/trends/). [Accessed
30/04/2017]
Figure 2: Illustration of association between the practical skills of coding, CT as corresponding cognitive skills
and the broad applicability of CT as a general problem solving strategy to different content domains
such as STEM
689
Katerina Tsarava et al.
1.2 Computational thinking in education
As a general problem solving strategy, influences of CT are closely related to STEM disciplines (Barr and
Stephenson, 2011). Furthermore, CT has also begun to influence areas of active study over and beyond STEM
such as algorithmic medicine, computational archaeology, computational economics/finance, digital humanities
etc. (Wing, 2010). For this reason, governments and educational institutions all over the world worked on a
coherent definition of CT and the integration of CT in the curricula of educational programs of primary,
secondary, and higher education over the last decade. For instance, educational institutions in the US revised
their undergraduate curriculum in computer science and changed their first course in computer science to cover
fundamental principles and processes of CT as a cognitive skill (e.g. Perkovic et al., 2010; Wing, 2010). Moreover,
in 2013, the computer science curriculum for universities in the UK was revised, by focusing strongly on the
promotion of CT as a widely applicable and transferable skill in computer science (Brown et al., 2014).
Furthermore, the relevance and importance granted to CT is also reflected by the fact that in 2014 the European
Coding Initiative was founded. In collaboration with several European Ministries of Education, members of the
European Schoolnet and the support of major technological enterprises (e.g., Microsoft, Facebook), the initiative
aims at promoting a sensible integration and evaluation of coding and CT in the official educational curricula
(Balanskat & Engelhardt, 2015).
This envisaged societal relevance of CT and its wide range of applicability let us decide to develop a training of
practical coding skills, integrated into a course on CT applied to various STEM contexts for 3rd and 4th graders.
To realize broad applicability of the training and because of reasons of platform independency, we suggest that
coding in young ages should not be based on a specific programming language, as these change rapidly according
to market and technology changes. For this reason, we aimed at fostering children’s coding skills on the broader
and more transferrable level of CT. Moreover, we tried to avoid common concerns on introducing coding already
in primary school (Garcia-Peñalvo, 2016) by i) implementing a game-based approach of learning by doing, ii)
focusing on cognitive processes of CT and not on practical coding skills related to specific programming
languages, iii) using unplugged haptic games and plugged-in low-threshold visual programming environments,
and iv) by adopting an overarching gamified framework accompanying the training for maintaining and
increasing motivation. Thereby, we build our training on the theory of constructionism following the principles
of “learning-by-doing” (e.g., Harel & Papert, 1991), which were established and evaluated in well-known
environments for early programming, like the Logo programming language, Scratch, etc.
2. Course concept
2.1 Course aim
We specifically designed the course to address CT processes defined and identified as shared with coding. In
particular, we considered the concepts of sequences, loops, parallelism, events, conditionals, operators, and
data and integrated them into non-programming (i.e., unplugged) and programming (i.e., plugged-in) activities.
The instructional design of our training is based on introducing each of the CT processes in a multimodal way
using unplugged and plugged-in activities and demonstrating their applicability within different STEM-related
contexts. The general idea of the whole course follows the theme: “play-modify-create”. Students are
introduced to CT processes through playful unplugged activities. Subsequently, they are asked to modify
elements within existing plugged-in activities before they finally have to create their own usable designs.
In the following description of the course concept, we first describe the actual lesson content and activities and
their aim. Subsequently, we elaborate on how the employed activities allow for a broad applicability of CT by
relating the activities to different STEM contexts. Moreover, we outline how the combination of unplugged and
plugged-in activities allows for an integrated constructivist approach to convey the respective content. Finally,
we briefly describe how we use a gamification framework to incorporate lessons on differing content conveyed
in different modes into a coherent and overarching course design.
2.2 Course outline
The course is structured as a series of eight lessons of 90 minutes each (see also Figure 3). During these lessons,
CT processes are introduced gradually beginning from more unplugged haptic, practical, and experiential
activities, moving on to plugged-in more abstract and demanding ones. During the lessons, students create their
own applications with MIT AppInventor which they can reuse on their own devices. Teacher’s guidance is
690
Katerina Tsarava et al.
gradually decreased towards students’ gradual independence of learning and creating. The specific lesson plan
is as follows:
2.2.1 Lesson 1
Description: Students are first introduced to the gamified assessment framework (see below). Moreover, they
get acquainted with unplugged concepts and tangibles and are introduced to the idea of computing without a
computer. The first activity is an unplugged life-size board game with turtles. The game shares ideas with the
concepts of the educational programming language Logo and is inspired by the commercial board game Robot
Turtles (Shapiro, 2013). In this treasure hunting game small groups of students have to manipulate turtle pawns,
which move by following specific commands written on game cards. Players need to edit and combine
command-cards and make strategic decision to create effective sequences, which allow them to lead their
pawns to the place where a treasure can be found. The aim of the game is the fast and efficient collection of
treasure items.
Aim: The main purpose of this first activity is the playful introduction to CT processes, such as logical and
algorithmic thinking, as well as pattern recognition through the use of common coding mediums, like sequences
and loops.
2.2.2 Lesson 2
Description: This lesson encompasses playing within unplugged activities and recognizing CT processes in STEM
disciplines. The second activity also employs an unplugged treasure hunt like board game and utilizes math
problems as progression stages. Specifically, this multiplayer board game is a competitive scenario, where
groups of players have to find their way through a maze of various difficulty levels. Each challenge includes
equations containing variables and placeholder images for constants (e.g., a blue crystal reflecting a value of 4).
Small groups of players have to solve the respective arithmetic equations in alternating order and find the best
strategy to progress on their way to the center of the maze. Conditions set by the game’s board (maze) provide
obstacles to obstruct the most direct way of reaching the center.
Aim: This activity aims at introducing conditionals, operators, variables, and constants, as well as previously
presented coding concepts (i.e., sequences and loops) to foster CT skills of logic, algorithmic thinking, and
evaluation.
2.2.3 Lesson 3
Description: Students play within unplugged activities and concepts, which are then gradually transferred to the
plugged-in environment of AppInventor, reusing established concepts from previous lessons. In this blended
activity, students have the opportunity to observe how unplugged coding and CT processes, like, for example,
events and parallelism, are applied and how they function within the plugged-in programming environment
through simple precoded scripts and scenarios. For instance, in a science simulation about rain (event) drops
(variable) increasing the fill level (variable) of a glass (constant) students need to recognize the coding concepts
previously introduced unplugged and understand how they are depicted and used in the plugged-in
environment. Students should be able to recognize, use, and modify coding concepts in these pre-built
AppInventor applications.
Aim: In this lesson, students should comprehend the interconnections between coding concepts and the newly
introduced CT abstract processes of decomposition and generalization.
2.2.4 Lesson 4
Description: After recapitulating the coding concepts and CT processes already introduced, Lesson 4 requires
students to brainstorm real-life scenarios and applications of these concepts, to highlight the importance of CT
processes in everyday life and STEM disciplines in particular. Following this, students are introduced to the
AppInventor software through multiple interactive tutorials as well as editing and playing simple game
applications. Pre-developed simple games in the MIT AppInventor environment are used as demonstrators and
allow students to manipulate code elements, e.g. building blocks/variables, in order to grasp the effects of
changes in a running system.
691
Katerina Tsarava et al.
Aim: The activities of this lesson are intended to support students’ familiarity and understanding of the
environment and how visual coding blocks can replicate coding concepts already identified in the previous
lessons.
2.2.5 Lesson 5 and 6
Description: In Lessons 5 and 6, students are guided through the creation of a simple app using scenarios in
STEM contexts. A simple calculator is developed by first explaining and understanding its usability and later on
designing and programming it in AppInventor. Afterwards, students are asked to create other and more
advanced apps in other STEM disciplines, for instance, science simulations. By providing pre-built AppInventor
assets to students we can facilitate work and guide the learning experience even in complex projects. Different
projects are assigned randomly to small groups of students. For instance, the creation of a simple pool billiard
physics app, to understand and visualize kinetic energy/momentum conservation of colliding balls. Other
projects require, for example, the creation of apps that simulate a magnetic field and the forces operating in it,
and the creation of the four seasons, or how the water cycle works, etc. After completing their respective app
all the student groups have to interact and test creations of their peers.
Aim: Both activities aim at fostering students’ coding independence through fading out teacher guidance. The
CT processes fostered by these activities are the process of evaluation and abstraction. Moreover, using and
developing simulated real-life STEM contexts should increase the awareness of the necessity of coding skills, in
order to solve problems in different STEM disciplines.
2.2.6 Lesson 7
Description: During the 7th lesson students are asked to brainstorm simple game ideas. Once they decided on
one of the designs, students can create their own game. Of course, they need to create rather simple games
(e.g. dice, memory game, mini golf, etc.) to keep it feasible. The instructor is crucial in this part of the lesson as
he/she has to assist in deciding on a realizable game, by taking into consideration its basic mechanisms. After
deciding on a game, students collaboratively create the game application. Importantly, in such complex projects
students have to apply all their previously learned coding and CT skills by understanding, analyzing, designing,
implementing, and evaluating their own game app. Created games can also be shared among group members
and peer-evaluated by fellow groups of students.
Aim: The aim of this activity is the engagement of students with more complex activities of problem solving and
procedural thinking, by creating and evaluating designs of their own.
2.2.7 Lesson 8
Description: In the last lesson students have to create their own applications. They are asked to create an
application dedicated to one of the STEM disciplines already presented and adapt or extend existing programs.
They are urged to do so by reusing parts of code created in previous lessons, to facilitate the working process,
but should also integrate new mechanics or functionalities, respectively, into the application. For instance,
scripts of app interface functionalities, such as interactive screen components, random number generators, etc.
Aim: During this activity, students also have to follow the procedure of analyzing the demands and requirements
to design an effective structure for their app. The evaluation procedure relies on sharing and peer reviewing, as
beta testers will test the apps of fellow student groups, repeating and fostering the obtainment of all the
previously identified CT processes.
2.3 Unplugged and plugged-in activities
Contemporary board games have proven to represent an informal and interactional context in which
computational thinking has to be applied. For instance, Pandemic (Leacock, 2008) and RaBit EscApe (Apostolellis
et al., 2014), are two strategic board games, in which computational thinking was embedded in collaborative
play. Considering this evidence, unplugged activities employed in the present course are realized as life-size
board games, in which students play collaboratively around a floor-board by strategically solving problems and
manipulating their pawns accordingly in space. Their active engagement in those unplugged games should raise
their motivation for participation and learning (see Echeverría et al., 2011; for an overview), as well as allowing
for an embodied experience of basic coding concepts and CT processes (cf. Barsalou, 2008 for embodied
692
Katerina Tsarava et al.
cognition), supporting conceptual abstractions in a natural manner (Butz, 2016). Moreover, the game-based
approach of the employed plugged-in activities does not only aim at engaging students into the learning
activities, but should also enhance the training and development of students’ symbolic thinking through
multimodal representations (Plass et al., 2015) and simplifications of complex computer-related concepts (e.g.
the concept of variables and constants described above, represented by the game rules as objects of
predetermined value).
For plugged-in activities of the course, we selected the MIT AppInventor software in its browser-based version.
MIT AppInventor offers a novice-oriented introduction to programming and app creation, that transforms the
complex language of text-based coding into visual drag-and-drop building blocks. The low-threshold graphical
interface allows even an inexperienced novice to create a basic, fully functional app within an hour or less.
AppInventor allows the development of applications for Android-run devices, using a web browser and either a
connected smartphone/tablet or emulator. This allows for taking home self-generated apps as a trophy after
the learning activity. We consider this software an advanced alternative to Scratch visual-programming
language, as it allows the creation and distribution of a standalone application.
Figure 3: Illustration of the course design taking into consideration the factors of mode (i.e., unplugged/plugged-
in), coding concepts (C1-Sequences to C7-Parallelism, see Figure 2), CT processes (P1-Decomposition
to P7-Generalization, see Figure 2) and the gamification framework. C*/P*: all concepts (C1-7) and
processes (P1-7)
The design of the course embeds the training of CT skills in a multimodal procedure. Coding concepts and
associated CT processes are first introduced in a playful and embodied way (unplugged activities), before they
are reconsidered in programming context (plugged-in activity), which also implies their application in a STEM
discipline. This aims at highlighting the relevance of coding concepts and CT processes not only for digital
contexts, but also real-life problems in general and STEM contexts in particular. For instance, in Lesson 2 students
play a math-based treasure hunting game. Following the rules of the game, players have to devise effective
sequences of commands, by combining constants, variables and operators correctly. They have the opportunity
to make their sequence even more successful by recognising patterns of moves, which may be folded and
operated by loops. Those unplugged game rules reflect fundamental and applicable coding concepts, which can
easily be applied and transferred to any programming language or complex problems in STEM. Accordingly, the
aforementioned activity is integrated into a plugged-in task in Lesson 3, where several of these coding concepts
are integrated into short simple pre-coded scripts. As an advanced task, students are then asked to modify those
693
Katerina Tsarava et al.
scripts experimentally to observe and experience the immediate consequences of their changes (picking up on
the idea of live coding, e.g. Paxton, 2002).
2.4 Gamification and assessment framework
By employing digital games as learning medium and providing an overarching gamification framework for the
course, we aim at increasing motivation and enjoyment of students. In fact, as a medium for lear ning, games
provide promising possibilities to motivate and engage students in learning (e.g., Chen et al., 2012). Importantly,
even simple game-like extrinsic motivators, such as score points and badges, can increase enjoyment and
performance (e.g. Ninaus et al., 2015; for a review see Hamari et al., 2014). In the current CT course we use a
gamified assessment framework, which is based on the assessment framework created by Dorling and Walker
(2014) for the effective evaluation of the UK computer science and CT curriculum (see also Moreno-León, et al.,
2015). As such, we apply a gamified award system, awarding badges for the successful acquisition of coding
concepts, core CT processes, STEM specialization domain (e.g. leaderboard for Maths, Science, etc.), creativity,
and social skills (e.g. cooperation within or between group, etc.). For instance, students receive stickers for each
attended session to put down in their individual course membership card, or, after successfully creating a science
simulation, students are awarded a science-badge.
3. Future studies and conclusion
The current course is planned to be part of the Hector-Core-Course program of the Hector-Children Academies
in Germany, which provide extra-curricular enrichment programs (http://www.hector-kinderakademie.de).
Therefore, the course will undergo a rigorous three-stage evaluation process. Phase 1 will include piloting and
testing the course concept. For this reason, multiple rounds of discussion with experts on the content as well as
educators will take place. This phase also includes an initial evaluation of the effectiveness of the course in a
small-scale intervention study at about 3-6 Hector-Children Academies to acquire first empirical data on training
gains and the feasibility of the course design. In Phase 2 feedback and experiences generated in Phase 1 might
result in modifications of the course. Following this, another empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of the
course at about 10 Hector-Children Academies will be run using a pre-post-test control group design.
Importantly, in this phase we will also evaluate the training of instructors as well as the training material itself.
Finally in Phase 3, implementation and effectiveness of the course will be evaluated in a randomized controlled
field trial, involving at least 20 Hector-Children Academies. Evaluation in Phase 2 and 3 will also aim at assessing
possible transfer effects of the training, by employing standardized psychological tests in order to examine
whether CT training affects other related cognitive skills, such as reasoning or general problem solving skills. The
primary objective at this stage of the evaluation is to whether the course yields any overall effect on
computational thinking. Given positive effects are observable in all three evaluation phases, the current course
will be certified as a Hector-Core-Course to be offered to all Hector-Children Academies. Moreover, in order to
better understand underlying mechanisms on how the various elements of the course influence the overall
efficiency, design research methods will be applied. After the design, development, and evaluation phases, we
expect to deliver hands-on un-plugged games and their related plugged-in activities built in AppInventor, along
with instructional materials for future teachers of the course.
The design and development of the current course is based on the most recent literature on educational
practices for coding and CT introduction into official curriculums and latest educational practice in STEM. We
integrated elements of game-based learning and gamification methods aiming at engaging and motivating
students, while specifically addressing STEM context to reflect the broad applicability of CT. Importantly, this
course does not aim at being a core programming course. Using a more general and cognitive perspective on
programming and coding we aim at fostering the underlying cognitive concept of CT, which might have broader
beneficial effects than instructing a single programming language alone. Consequently, the course is not only
aiming at improving practical programming skills, but fundamental cognitive skills relevant for the 21st century.
References
Apostolellis, P., Stewart, M., Frisina, C. and Kafura, D. (2014) ‘RaBit EscAPE: A Board Game for Computational Thinking’,
Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Interaction design and children - IDC ’14, pp. 349–352.
Balanskat, A. and Engelhardt, K. (2015) ‘Computing our future. Computer programming and coding Priorities, school
curricula and initiatives across Europe’, Brussels: European Schoolnet, pp. 4-7.
Barr, V. and Stephenson, C. (2011) ‘Bringing Computational Thinking to K-12: What is Involved and What is the Role of the
Computer Science Education Community?’, ACM Inroads, 2(1), pp. 48–54.
694
Katerina Tsarava et al.
Barsalou, L. W. (2008) ‘Grounded cognition’, Annual review of psychology, 59, pp. 617–645.
Brennan, K. and Resnick, M. (2012) ‘New frameworks for studying and assessing the development of computational
thinking’, Annual American Educational Research Association Meeting, Vancouver, BC, Canada, pp. 1–25.
Brown, N. C. C., Sentance, S. U. E., Crick, T. O. M. and Humphreys, S. (2014) ‘Restart : The Resurgence of Computer Science
in UK Schools’, 14(2).
Briggs, J. (2014). Computational Thinker: Concepts & Approaches. CAS Barefoot. Retrieved from
http://barefootcas.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Barefoot-Computational-Thinking-Poster.pdf .
Butz, M. V. (2016) ‘Toward a unified sub-symbolic computational theory of cognition’, Frontiers in Psychology, 7, pp. 1–19.
Chen, Z. H., Liao, C. C. Y., Cheng, H. N. H., Yeh, C. Y. C. and Chan, T. W. (2012) ‘Influence of game quests on pupils’
enjoyment and goal-pursuing in math learning’, Educational Technology and Society, 15(2), pp. 317–327.
Cuny, J., Snyder L. and Wing J. M. (2010) "Demystifying Computational Thinking for Non-Computer Scientists" work in
progress.
Echeverría, A., García-Campo, C., Nussbaum, M., Gil, F., Villalta, M., Améstica, M. and Echeverría, S. (2011) ‘A framework
for the design and integration of collaborative classroom games’, Computers & Education. 57(1), pp. 1127–1136.
García-Peñalvo, F., Reimann, D., Tuul, M., Rees, A. and Jormanainen, I. (2016). TACCLE 3, O5: An overview of the most
relevant literature on coding and computational thinking with emphasis on the relevant issues for teachers. pp. 3-8.
Google Inc. and MIT Media Lab (2010) ‘AppInventor 2’. Available from http://ai2.appinventor.mit.edu
Harel, I. and Papert, S. (1991) ‘Constructionism’, Ablex:Norwood, NJ.
Hamari, J., Koivisto, J. and Sarsa, H. (2014) ‘Does gamification work? - A literature review of empirical studies on
gamification’, Proceedings of the Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, pp. 3025–3034.
Kazimoglu, C. (2013) ‘Empirical evidence that proves a serious game is an educationally effective tool for learning computer
programming constructs at the computational thinking level’.
Leacock, M. (2008) ‘Pandemic’ [Board game], Z-Man Games: Mahopac, NY.
Moreno-León, J., Robles, G. and Román-González, M. (2015) ‘Dr. Scratch: Automatic Analysis of Scratch Projects to Assess
and Foster Computational Thinking’, RED. Revista de Educación a Distancia, 15(46), pp. 1–23.
NRC (2011) ‘Committee for the Workshops on Computational Thinking: Report of a workshop on the scope and nature of
computational thinking’, Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Ninaus, M., Pereira, G., Stefitz, R., Prada, R., Paiva, A. and Wood, G. (2015) ‘Game elements improve performance in a
working memory training task’, International Journal of Serious Games, 2(1), pp. 3–16.
Paxton, J. (2002) ‘Live programming as a lecture technique’, Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, 18(2), pp. 51–56.
Perkovic, L., Settle, A., Hwang, S. and Jones, J. (2010) ‘A Framework for Computational Thinking across the Curriculum’,
Proceedings ITiCS ’10, pp. 123–127.
Plass, J.L., Homer, B.D., Kinzer, C.K., Plass, J.L., Homer, B.D., Kinzer, C.K., Plass, J.L., Homer, B.D. and Kinzer, C.K. (2016)
‘Foundations of Game-Based Learning’, Educational Psychologist, 50(4), pp. 258–283.
Sanders, M. (2009) ‘STEM, STEM Education, STEMAnia’, Education, 68(4), pp. 20–27.
Shapiro, D. (2013) ‘Robot Turtles’, Thinkfun:Seattle, WA.
Wing, J. M. (2006) ‘Computational Thinking’, Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 49(3),
pp. 33–35.
Wing, J. M. (2010) ‘Computational Thinking: What and Why?’, The Link - The Magazine of the Carnegie Mellon University
School of Computer Science, pp. 1–6.
Yadav, A., Mayfield, C., Zhou, N., Hambrusch, S. and Korb, J. T. (2014) ‘Computational Thinking in Elementary and
Secondary Teacher Education’, ACM Transactions on Computing Education, 14(1), pp. 1–16.
Yadav, A., Hong, H. and Stephenson, C. (2016) ‘Computational Thinking for All: Pedagogical Approaches to Embedding 21st
Century Problem Solving in K-12 Classrooms’, TechTrends, 60(6), pp.565-568.
695
... Researches have shown that computer science unplugged activities contribute to the acquisition of basic concepts related to computer science (Hermans and Aivaloglou 2017;Wohl et al. 2015;Taub et al. 2009), support improvement of computational thinking (Leifheit et al. 2018;Jagušt et al. 2018;Rodriguez 2015), provide an entertainment element (like a magic show) for the lesson (Bell and Vahrenhold 2018;Curzon 2014) and help to overcome obstacles such as misconception or negative attitude towards programming (Bell and Vahrenhold 2018;Şendurur 2018). Additionally, it is possible to come across studies emphasizing that the use of game components for teaching computer science is an effective source of motivation (Tsarava et al. 2017;Kotini and Tzelepi 2015;Nishida et al. 2009), increases class participation performance (Ibanez et al. 2014;Swacha and Baszuro 2013) and strengthens collaboration (Li et al. 2013). Also Voigt et al. (2010) state that creating a competition learning environment with computer science unplugged activities provides a more enjoyable learning process. ...
... This finding indicates that the game components help to make the lesson more fun. Hence in the literature, it is asserted that the inclusion of gamification and entertainment elements in unplugged activities is an effective source of motivation (Bell and Vahrenhold 2018;Tsarava et al. 2017;Voigt et al. 2010). As a conclusion, in this study, it was presented an example of the implementation and evaluation of a computer science unplugged activity and some suggestions were made for the implementation of this activity. ...
Article
Full-text available
The purpose of this study is to examine the process of writing algorithms using step by step instructions of students through computer science unplugged activity. Accordingly, CityMap activity which is related to daily life and scenario based was developed. The aim of this activity is to write algorithms of going from one place to another using step by step instructions. The rules are also to reach the destination with the shortest way and the least number of steps using correct instructions. The study group consists of 15 sixth grade students. The case study was used as a research method. For the activity, a map and a worksheet designed by the researchers were used as data collection tools and an answer key was used for the analysis. Both individual and group evaluation were made and for this process gamification components were used. The findings revealed that students could wrote algorithms step by step instructions for the tasks determined in the activity. In addition, it was concluded that using of the gamification components made the activity more enjoyable and the students be motivated towards learning of computer science.
... Relkin et al. [19] and Brackmann et al. [22] provided empirical evidence about the effectiveness of the unplugged approach to develop computational thinking skills, showing the improvement in students' computational thinking skills after participating in the unplugged computing instruction. [30,31,32,33] proved its positive effect on motivation, engaging and consequently effectiveness in primary education. [34,35] have demonstrated that unplugged activities significantly improved the computational thinking skills of pupils in the second grade and middle school students. ...
Article
Full-text available
Computational thinking is a fundamental competence that is being introduced in K-12 and succeeding curricula worldwide. Despite this huge effort, many computational thinking models in the literature do not explicitly take into consideration the pupils’ age and the developmental nature of computational thinking skills. Furthermore, many existing computational thinking models are focused on the internal thinking processes of the individuals, failing to explicitly consider the situated nature, in terms of social context and artefactual environment, that usually characterise tasks that require computational thinking to be solved. In this paper, we present a framework for the design, realisation, analysis, and assessment of computational thinking activities, called CT-cube. The CT-cube allows to extend existing computational thinking models to consider the life-long development of computational thinking skills in individuals, from childhood to adult age, and to take into consideration the situated nature of computational thinking activities. We use the CT-cube to design an unplugged task, called Cross Array Task (CAT), allowing to assess the algorithmic skills of K-12 pupils and we show how the CT-cube can be used in this case to illustrate the development of this competence along the entire compulsory school path, considering a sample of 109 pupil aged 3 to 16 in Switzerland.
... The first category holds those definitions that explicitly relate to programming and computing concepts. These definitions consider programming as the most fertile ground for learning and practicing CT (Buitrago Flórez et al., 2017;Lye & Koh, 2014;Román-González et al., 2017;Tsarava et al., 2017). Brennan and Resnick's (2012) definition is an example of a theoretical framework that falls under this category, as it explicitly addresses CT in the context of Scratch programming and refers to common concepts in programming, like data types, object-dependent events, or logical and mathematical operators. ...
Article
Both computational thinking (CT) and creativity have been recognized as key skills for today's learners. Over the last decade, research of both skills in a single context has emerged. In this paper, we present a scoping review of 62 such empirical from 2011 to 2020. Our goal was to have a thorough understanding of the educational settings in which research on both CT and creativity was conducted, the theoretical foundations it has laid down, and the research tools used. Our findings indicate a geographical bias (dominance of the US and prominence of developed European countries), as well as a focus on secondary education and on STEM-related disciplines; this could be explained by the current situation of CT spread. We also found that when studying CT and creativity jointly, it is most common to define CT in a broader perspective than merely programming of computer science. Additionally, while creativity is largely referred to as product-related, CT is barely referred to as such. Taken together, our findings point out some gaps in the current research of CT and creativity and suggest how it should be expended on the fertile grounds of creativity, as the latter crosses geographical, age, and subject borders. Doing so may build a bridge between CT and creativity in a way that will benefit both.
... For example, through video analysis, Looi et al. (2018) found that unplugged activities helped all group learners engage in the explorations of the sorting algorithms, which resulted in good programming performances on this algorithm. Tsarava et al. (2018) designed board games to increase children's motivation for programming learning, and found that unplugged activities helped keep children engaged in the programming game. Third, a series of studies have been conducted to examine the benefits of unplugged programming for promoting learners' positive attitudes. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background Unplugged programming is proved to be an effective means to foster the learner-centered programming learning. In addition to the final tests, learners’ programming knowledge, skills, and capacities are primarily demonstrated throughout the programming process, particularly in the situation when they encounter challenges and problems. However, few studies examine how learners engage in the programming processes and to what extent unplugged programming fosters learning. This research used a quasi-experimental design to investigate two instructional modes in China’s secondary education, namely, the instructor-directed lecturing and the learner-centered unplugged programming. Based on an analytical framework, this research used mixed methods to compare learners’ knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes under these two instructional modes. Results The research results revealed discrepancies between two instructional modes. First, learners in the unplugged programming class achieved significantly higher scores on the programming knowledge assessment, compared to learners in the traditional lecturing class. Second, compared to the traditional lecturing class, learners in the unplugged programming class had higher test scores of the computational thinking skills, particularly on the cooperativity dimension. Next, discrepancies of in-class behaviors showed that learners in the unplugged programming class had frequent behaviors of listening to the instructor’s instructions and discussing with peers, while learners in the instructor-directed class had frequent behaviors of listening to instructor, taking notes, and irrelevant activities. Learners’ self-reported attitudes in the unplugged programming indicated a higher level of confidence than learners in the traditional lecturing class. Overall, this research revealed that the learner-centered unplugged programming had potential to improve learners’ programming knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes compared to the traditional instructor-directed lecturing of programming. Conclusions As a feasible and easy-to-use instructional activity in computer science education, unplugged programming is encouraged to be integrated in formal education to increase learners’ programming interests, motivations, and qualities. This quasi-experimental research compared learners’ programming knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes under two instructional modes. The results revealed critical discrepancies between two instructional modes on learners’ knowledge gains, in-class behaviors, and changes of attitudes towards programming. Pedagogical and analytical implications were provided for future instructional design and learning analytics of computer programming education.
... In the literature, there are studies that aim to determine computational thinking skill levels of the students prepared towards different age groups and using different measurement tools (Akram et al., Relkin, de Ruiter & Bers, 2020;Tsai, Liang & Hsu, 2020;Tsarava et al., 2017;Wei, Lin, Meng, Tan & Kong, 2021). In the studies conducted, findings that contain a large sample from pre-school to university students were obtained. ...
Article
Educators emphasize that computational thinking is especially helpful in raising problem-solving skills, improving logical reasoning, and developing analytical thinking. In this context, the aim of this study is to develop an online, interactive, valid, reliable and useful performance-based assessment tool for measuring computational thinking skills. Data were collected in two stages with three different measurement tools. In the data collection phase, a psychometric scale, a skill test and an interactive web application developed in this study were used. In the study in which a total of 203 high school students participated, it was determined that the students' computational thinking skills were at average level. as a result, a valid and reliable performance-based platform was developed for measuring computational thinking skills. It has also been concluded that the performance-based measurement tool makes a better measurement than the psychometric scale. It is emphasized that computational thinking should be treated as a skill or group of skills, not as a theoretical knowledge, product/portfolio or attitude/perception. Therefore, it is believed that developing performance-based tools for evaluating computational thinking skills and measuring them by using multiple measurement tools will give more accurate results. Considering the developments in computational thinking, it is thought that the study will contribute to the literature.
Article
The aim of this study is to compare the effects of unplugged and plugged-in activities on academic achievement and computational thinking (CT) skills of sixth-grade students. Mixed-method research was carried out to explore whether there were differences between the groups, and to learn the students' opinions and experiences regarding the practices. For the quantitative phase, a quasi-experimental design was used with two groups. For qualitative phase, 12 students were interviewed. The participants were 84 sixth-grade students (between the ages of 10 and 11). The intervention was designed on a selection/construction of activities from seven different basic programming web platforms for the plugged-in group and the proposed national curriculum unplugged activities for the unplugged group. The results showed that significant differences between groups in academic achievement favoring the unplugged activities, but not in CT skills. Development in CT skills contributed to the unplugged group's academic achievement. In addition, qualitative results showed that the plugged-in group perceived their activities as fun and entertaining, but not exactly like a lesson; in contrast, the unplugged group did not experience anxiety or boredom since they perceived the activities as educational. CT explained 27 percent of the variance in academic achievement, suggesting that this skill is important for academic achievement in basic programming. These results suggest that students can improve their academic achievement and maintain the level of CT acquisition across unplugged and plugged-in activities. This article contributes to the body of knowledge about the positive impact of unplugged activities on teaching CT and programming fundamentals.
Article
Existing computational thinking (CT) research focuses on programming in K-12 education; however, there are challenges in introducing it into the formal disciplines. Therefore, we propose the introduction of non-programming plugged learning in mathematics to develop students’ CT. The research and teaching teams collaborated to develop an instructional design for primary school students. The participants were 112 third- and fourth-grade students (aged 9–10) who took part in three rounds of experiments. In this paper, we present an iterative problem-solving process in design-based implementation research, focusing on the implementation issues that lead to the design principles in the mathematics classroom. The computational tasks, environment, tools, and practices were iteratively improved over three rounds to incorporate CT effectively into mathematics. Results from the CT questionnaire demonstrated that the new program could significantly improve students’ CT abilities and compound thinking. The results of the post-test revealed that CT, including the sub-dimensions of decomposition, algorithmic thinking, and problem-solving improved threefold compared to the pre-test between the three rounds, indicating that strengthened CT design enhanced CT perceptions. Similarly, the students’ and teacher’ interviews confirmed their positive experiences with CT. Based on empirical research, we summarize design characteristics from computational tasks, computational environment and tools, and computational practices and propose design principles. We demonstrate the potential of non-programming plugged learning for developing primary school students’ CT in mathematics.
Chapter
In the contemporary digital era, introducing computational thinking concepts is considered an imperative need at all stages of schooling, since they are inextricably linked to skills applicable and beneficial in everyday life. This chapter presents a novel educational framework that aims to foster the growth of computational thinking at early childhood stages, within the context of physical and natural science courses, pursuing the unplugged philosophy and following the principles of game-based, project-based and collaborative learning. This chapter also presents a relevant pilot study, conducted with second grade students of a Greek primary school, with the objective of assessing the feasibility of the proposed educational framework, as well as examining its effectiveness. The results stemming from the pilot are promising and reveal that the proposed approach serves our goal to enhance computational thinking at the first stages of schooling through engaging and fun educational activities that appeal to young students.
Thesis
Full-text available
Computational thinking skills are becoming part of the individual qualities needed for today's world. As well as determining the qualities of the individual needed, teaching and measuring are among the important issues that have been discussed. For this reason, the aim of this study is to develop an online, interactive, valid, reliable and useful performance-based measurement tool for measuring computational thinking skills. The research was conducted by using the descriptive survey model. Therefore, quantitative data was collected by using an interactive web application which is a performance-based measurement tool developed, a skill test consisting of questions equivalent, and a valid and reliable psychometric scale. The validity and reliability analyses of the web application were made with data obtained from the psychometric scale and skill test used in the research. The questions in the skills test are prepared to have the same properties as the questions prepared for the online platform. Although the questions in the web application and the questions in the skills test are completely different from each other, they are expected to measure the same skills. The developed performance-based measurement tool has 12 questions covering 7 different skills. The questions can be answered in different ways according to the answer expected from the participant. In other words, the participants are required to perform a number of interactive operations such as drag-and-drop, flip, and mark during the question answering phase. At the stage of preparing the questions, expert opinions and sources obtained from the literature took an important position. Each of the questions, consisting of different difficulty levels, was automatically evaluated over 10 points. Therefore, a participant who correctly answers all the questions in the developed performance-based measurement tool can receive a maximum of 120 points. Besides, the data collection process consists of two stages. In the first phase, 156 high school students completed statements on the psychometric scale and then answered the questions on the web app which is a performance-based measurement tool. In the second phase, 47 high school students answered multiple-choice questions in the skill test in the form of paper and pencil immediately after completing the psychometric scale. At the same time, the students answered 12 questions in the web application. In other words, the study group consists of 203 high school students. In this context, statistical analyses were carried out with data obtained from three different data collection tools. As a result of the normality analysis conducted on the obtained data, it was determined that the data showed a normal distribution. However, since the number of samples in each category included in the second stage did not meet the assumptions in parametric tests, non-parametric tests were used. Independent Sample T-test, One-Way ANOVA test, and Tukey HSD test were used for parametric tests. For non-parametric tests, Kruskal-Wallis and Mann-Whitney U tests were used. Besides, Velicer's MAP Test and Horn's Parallel Analysis Test were used for exploratory factor analysis of the developed interactive web application. Cronbach's Alpha test and Spearman-Brown test were applied for reliability studies. In the context of convergent validity, a bivariate correlation test was used. As a result of all the analyses, a valid and reliable performance-based online platform has been developed for measuring computational thinking skills. According to the results obtained in the analyses, it was found that the computational thinking skill levels of high school students in the study group were medium-level. Besides, students' computational thinking levels were examined based on gender, class level and school type variables. As a result of the examination, students' computational thinking skill levels did not differ by gender in the context of the web application and skill test tools, while the results obtained from the psychometric scale differed significantly in favor of male students. While no significant differences were found in terms of psychometric scale and web application when examined specifically for class levels, significant differences were found in favor of 12th grade in the data collected from the skill test. Finally, as a result of analyses conducted in the context of the school type, significant differences were observed for the web application and skill test measurement tools, while no differences were found for the psychometric scale by school type. It has also been concluded that the performance-based measurement tool makes a better measurement than the psychometric scale.
Technical Report
Full-text available
The rationale for this literature review is to take the main areas of debate surrounding the teaching of coding to primary aged children and examine the polemic and the different positions that writers and practitioners are taking on these issues. This is intended to be a literature review useful to practitioners rather than academics. In that vein, in addition to published peer referenced journal articles we have decided to make maximum use of blog posts and opinions on social media for our source material as we believe that the most informed debate on kids coding is not actually going on in academic journals! In fact, in a meta-analysis of 27 peer-reviewed papers on the subject of teaching computational thinking to school aged children, it was found that only ‘nine peer-reviewed intervention studies were based in K-12 settings’, highlighting the gap in the research of developing computational thinking in school aged children. ‘Even with these limited studies, most were conducted as after-school activities.’ (Lye, S. Y. & Koh, J. H. L., 2014.) So even the academics know that the scope of their own work is limited. Based on the preceding, the TACCLE 3 team members have compiled reviews of academic papers and have also trawled through blogs, news-articles and opinion pieces to find some answers to the questions teachers regularly ask us, along with a few extras that we found interesting. The information in this paper has been divided into 5 chapters. In the first chapter TACCLE 3 team members try to answer the following questions: • Why are we teaching coding? • Should we actually be teaching coding to young children at all? • How should we be teaching it? • How to best use tangible user interfaces? • Are there gender issues to overcome? In chapter 2 Francisco Jose García-Peñalvo provides a deeper introduction into computational thinking: what it is, what are the core concepts of it and how to introduce this approach into the classrooms. In chapter 3 Daniela Reimann introduces us ‘smart textiles’ as a creative environment for programming interactive objects. In chapter 4 Maire Tuul gives an overview of Makey Makey, a platform for improvising tangible user interfaces. In chapter 5 Ilkka Jormanainen takes a look into the world of robotics. All of the chapters have been written in a way that it is possible to understand the content of each chapter without reading the paper from cover to cover. You can just pick out the parts you find interesting. Enjoy reading! References Lye, S. Y. & Koh, J. H. L. (2014). Review on teaching and learning of computational thinking through programming: What is next for K-12? Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 51-61.
Article
Full-text available
This paper proposes how various disciplinary theories of cognition may be combined into a unifying, sub-symbolic, computational theory of cognition. The following theories are considered for integration: psychological theories, including the theory of event coding, event segmentation theory, the theory of anticipatory behavioral control, and concept development; artificial intelligence and machine learning theories, including reinforcement learning and generative artificial neural networks; and theories from theoretical and computational neuroscience, including predictive coding and free energy-based inference. In the light of such a potential unification, it is discussed how abstract cognitive, conceptualized knowledge and understanding may be learned from actively gathered sensorimotor experiences. The unification rests on the free energy-based inference principle, which essentially implies that the brain builds a predictive, generative model of its environment. Neural activity-oriented inference causes the continuous adaptation of the currently active predictive encodings. Neural structure-oriented inference causes the longer term adaptation of the developing generative model as a whole. Finally, active inference strives for maintaining internal homeostasis, causing goal-directed motor behavior. To learn abstract, hierarchical encodings, however, it is proposed that free energy-based inference needs to be enhanced with structural priors, which bias cognitive development towards the formation of particular, behaviorally suitable encoding structures. As a result, it is hypothesized how abstract concepts can develop from, and thus how they are structured by and grounded in, sensorimotor experiences. Moreover, it is sketched-out how symbol-like thought can be generated by a temporarily active set of predictive encodings, which constitute a distributed neural attractor in the form of an interactive free-energy minimum. The activated, interactive network attractor essentially characterizes the semantics of a concept or a concept composition, such as an actual or imagined situation in our environment. Temporal successions of attractors then encode unfolding semantics, which may be generated by a behavioral or mental interaction with an actual or imagined situation in our environment. Implications, further predictions, possible verification and falsifications, as well as potential enhancements into a fully spelled-out unified theory of cognition are discussed at the end of the paper.
Article
Full-text available
The recent focus on computational thinking as a key 21st century skill for all students has led to a number of curriculum initiatives to embed it in K-12 classrooms. In this paper, we discuss the key computational thinking constructs, including algorithms, abstraction, and automation. We further discuss how these ideas are related to current educational re- forms, such as Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and provide specific means that would allow teachers to embed these ideas in their K-12 classrooms, in- cluding recommendations for instructional technologists and professional development experts for infusing computational thinking into other subjects. In conclusion, we suggest that computational thinking ideas outlined in this paper are key to moving students from merely being technology-literate to using computational tools to solve problems.
Article
Full-text available
One of the barriers to entry of computer programming in schools is the lack of tools that support educators in the assessment of student projects. In order to amend this situation this paper presents Dr. Scratch, a web application that allows teachers and students to automatically analyze projects coded in Scratch, the most used programming language in primary and secondary education worldwide, to check if they have been properly programmed, learn from their mistakes and get feedback to improve their code and develop their Computational Thinking (CT) skills. One of the goals of Dr. Scratch, besides supporting teachers in the evaluation tasks, is to act as a stimulus to encourage students to keep on improving their programming skills. Aiming to check its effectiveness regarding this objective, workshops with students in the range from 10 to 14 years were run in 8 schools, in which over 100 learners analyzed one of their Scratch projects with Dr. Scratch, read the information displayed as feedback by Dr. Scratch, and tried to improve their projects using the guidelines and tips offered by the tool. Our results show that at the end of the workshop, students increased their CT score and, consequently, improved their coding skills.
Article
Full-text available
The utilization of game elements in a non-game context is currently used in a vast range of different domains. However, research on game elements' effects in cognitive tasks is still sparse. Thus, in this study we implemented three game elements, namely, progress bar, level indicator, and a thematic setting, in a working memory training task. We evaluated the impact of game elements on user performance and perceived state of flow when compared to a conventional version of the task. Participants interacting with game elements showed higher scores in the working memory training task than participants from a control group who completed the working memory training task without the game elements. Moreover, game elements facilitated the individuals' performance closer to their maximum working memory capacity. Finally, the perceived flow did not differ between the two groups, which indicates that game elements can induce better performance without changing the perception of being " in the zone " , that is without an increase in anxiety or boredom. This empirical study indicates that certain game elements can improve the performance and efficiency in a working memory task by increasing users' ability and willingness to train at their optimal performance level.
Article
Full-text available
As a medium for learning, digital games provide promising possibilities to motivate and engage students in subject learning. In this study, a game-based learning system, My-Pet-My-Quest, is developed to support pupils' math learning. This is due to the fact that most students in Taiwan have relatively lower positive attitude towards math learning, even though their math performance is prominent. To this end, a three-tire framework is proposed to guide the design of the My-Pet-My-Quest system. A quasi-experiment was conducted to examine the influence of game quests on pupils' enjoyment and goal-pursuing in math learning. The results revealed that game quests were favored by students in terms of enjoyment, goal orientation, and goal intensity. Possible reasons for these results and a discussion of related issues are presented in this paper.
Article
Full-text available
Mitchel Resnick (mres@media.mit.edu) MIT Media Lab Brennan, K., & Resnick, M. (2012). Using artifact-based interviews to study the development of computational thinking in interactive media design. Paper presented at annual American Educational Research Association meeting, Abstract Computational thinking is a phrase that has received considerable attention over the past several years – but there is little agreement about what computational thinking encompasses, and even less agreement about strategies for assessing the development of computational thinking in young people. We are interested in the ways that design-based learning activities – in particular, programming interactive media – support the development of computational thinking in young people. Over the past several years, we have developed a computational thinking framework that emerged from our studies of the activities of interactive media designers. Our context is Scratch – a programming environment that enables young people to create their own interactive stories, games, and simulations, and then share those creations in an online community with other young programmers from around the world. The first part of the paper describes the key dimensions of our computational thinking framework: computational concepts (the concepts designers engage with as they program, such as iteration, parallelism, etc.), computational practices (the practices designers develop as they engage with the concepts, such as debugging projects or remixing others' work), and computational perspectives (the perspectives designers form about the world around them and about themselves). The second part of the paper describes our evolving approach to assessing these dimensions, including project portfolio analysis, artifact-based interviews, and design scenarios. We end with a set of suggestions for assessing the learning that takes place when young people engage in programming.
Article
In this article we argue that to study or apply games as learning environments, multiple perspectives have to be taken into account. We first define game-based learning and gamification, and then discuss theoretical models that describe learning with games, arguing that playfulness is orthogonal to learning theory. We then review design elements of games that facilitate learning by fostering learners' cognitive, behavioral, affective, and sociocultural engagement with the subject matter. Finally, we discuss the basis of these design elements in cognitive, motivational, affective, and sociocultural foundations by reviewing key theories from education and psychology that are the most pertinent to game-based learning and by describing empirical research on learning with games that has been or should be conducted. We conclude that a combination of cognitive, motivational, affective, and sociocultural perspectives is necessary for both game design and game research to fully capture what games have to offer for learning.
Article
Computer science in UK schools is undergoing a remarkable transformation. While the changes are not consistent across each of the four devolved nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), there are developments in each that are moving the subject to become mandatory for all pupils from age 5 onwards. In this paper, we detail how computer science declined in the UK, and the developments that led to its revitalisation: a mixture of industry and interest group lobbying, with a particular focus on the value of the subject to all school pupils, not just those who would study it at degree level. This rapid growth in the subject is not without issues, however: there remain significant forthcoming challenges with its delivery, especially surrounding the issue of training sufficient numbers of teachers. We describe a national network of teaching excellence which is being set up to combat this problem, and look at the other challenges that lie ahead.