Today Marleen & Robin (that’s me) visited the kick-off of the PERL group at Leiden University. An interesting afternoon! As probably everybody who attended this event, we think it’s important for students to learn the digital skills they need to create new things. That’s why we organize courses for teachers and students in Processing and CoSpaces Edu an co-organize the CoSpaces Competition!
The day consisted of several talks focusing on research that helps to teach programming skills a little better. In this post I’ll share some insights.
Cognitive models for programming
A conceptual model can help teachers to improve their coding lessons, by understanding how their students solve programming problems.
It helps us in analyzing whether the skills that are important for learning how to program could also be beneficial for solving other types of problems. This is what is usually meant with ‘computational thinking’. A term that has been quite controversial, as there is quite some research that suggests that skills are not general, but domain specific.
Coding class without teachers
The second session was by Sally Hogenboom. For her graduation project she co-created Codetaal. A project that builds on an existing infrastructure that is also used to teach children how to read and calculate. In this project they try to tackle the problem of learning how to program at an impressive scale. They created an application with hundreds of coding exercises and tools for analyzing the progress of students.
These tools create data that is very valuable for researchers to better understand the mental challenges that students have.
The tools also offer opportunities to make the entire system adaptive and give students a challenge at their own level. I always find this kind of projects very interesting. Codetaal attempts to be an application that students can mostly use on their own. The teacher can have a role and help students individually or in smaller groups at the same level. But much of the application can be followed by students individually.
This kind of projects are often somewhat controversial. Are teachers not needed anymore? Isn’t it better if teachers learn these basic programming skills as well?
I think that would be great! But in practice I see that this approach is too limited to tackle the problem of teaching children to learn how to program. And understandably so. Teachers usually haven’t learned how to program themselves. And society asks so much of them. Everything that should change in society, should be taught at schools it seems. If we want to teach children the digital skills they need for the future, projects are needed that operate at a large scale and don’t ask too much of teachers.
This was probably one of my fastest blog posts ever. While I’m writing this, the head researcher from the PERL group, Felienne Hermans, is still presenting quite enthusiastically. Have a look at their group, because they really do interesting research!