A Robotic-based Approach for CT Development
Challenges of Teaching Programming Concepts to Children and the Potential of Informal Learning
Keywords:Computational Thinking, Computational Concepts, Computational Practices, Programming, Informal learning
In many countries worldwide, Computational thinking (CT) is now considered as a fundamental skill for dealing with the challenges of the 21st century society. One of the most common ways of imparting CT knowledge in K-12 education is by teaching programming and coding, as it requires applying a set of concepts and practices that are essential for thinking computationally. However, learning to program can be challenging and it may take time to develop these skills in the context of school activities. Thus, complementing formal K-12 education with after-school or other types of informal learning activities aimed at fostering CT concepts and practices among young students can be an alternative approach to develop these skills. During the summer of 2021, we carried out a series of workshops in the context of a summer camp taking place at a public library, organized by a local municipality in southern Sweden. These workshops (with a total teaching duration of 20 hours in one week) consisted of activities where children aged 11-14 had to assemble wheeled robots and then program them using a visual language to make them execute different types of tasks and challenges. The outcomes of our study show that roughly one third of the participants managed to program the robots with code that made use of CT core concepts, such as conditionals, loops, and logical operators, among others. The rest of the children did not manage to successfully apply these concepts and thus they could only manage to program sequential linear scripts. We argue that learning to program and understanding some of the main CT concepts, which are for the most part very abstract, is a process that takes time and thus, extracurricular activities can be an effective method to complement formal education and help young students develop their CT and programming skills.
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