How do you best teach programming in school? It’s one of the core questions for primary and secondary computing teachers. That’s why we’re making it the focus of our free online seminars in 2024. You’re invited to attend and hear about the newest research about the teaching and learning of programming, with or without AI tools.
Building on the success and the friendly, accessible session format of our previous seminars, this coming year we will delve into the latest trends and innovative approaches to programming education in school.
Our online seminars are for everyone interested in computing education
Our monthly online seminars are not only for computing educators but also for everyone else who is passionate about teaching young people to program computers. The seminar participants are a diverse community of teachers, technology enthusiasts, industry professionals, coding club volunteers, and researchers.
With the seminars we aim to bridge the gap between the newest research and practical teaching. Whether you are an educator in a traditional classroom setting or a mentor guiding learners in a CoderDojo or Code Club, you will gain insights from leading researchers about how school-age learners engage with programming.
What to expect from the seminars
Each online seminar begins with an expert presenter delivering their latest research findings in an accessible way. We then move into small groups to encourage discussion and idea exchange. Finally, we come back together for a Q&A session with the presenter.
Here’s what attendees had to say about our previous seminars:
“As a first-time attendee of your seminars, I was impressed by the welcoming atmosphere.”
“[…] several seminars (including this one) provided valuable insights into different approaches to teaching computing and technology.”
“I plan to use what I have learned in the creation of curriculum […] and will pass on what I learned to my team.”
“I enjoyed the fact that there were people from different countries and we had a chance to see what happens elsewhere and how that may be similar and different to what we do here.”
January seminar: AI-generated Parson’s Problems
Computing teachers know that, for some students, learning about the syntax of programming languages is very challenging. Working through Parson’s Problem activities can be a way for students to learn to make sense of the order of lines of code and how syntax is organised. But for teachers it can be hard to precisely diagnose their students’ misunderstandings, which in turn makes it hard to create activities that address these misunderstandings.
At our first 2024 seminar on 9 January, Dr Barbara Ericson and Xinying Hou (University of Michigan) will present a promising new approach to helping teachers solve this difficulty. In one of their studies, they combined Parsons Problems and generative AI to create targeted activities for students based on the errors students had made in previous tasks. Thus they were able to provide personalised activities that directly addressed gaps in the students’ learning.
Sign up now to join our seminars
All our seminars start at 17:00 UK time (18:00 CET / 12:00 noon ET / 9:00 PT) and are held online on Zoom. To ensure you don’t miss out, sign up now to receive calendar invitations, and access links for each seminar on the day.
We all know that learning to program, and specifically learning how to debug or fix code, can be frustrating and leave beginners overwhelmed and disheartened. In a recent blog article, our PhD student Lauria at the Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre highlighted the pivotal role that teachers play in shaping students’ attitudes towards debugging. But what about teachers who are coding novices themselves?
Luisa is a researcher at the University of Passau, Germany, and has been working closely with both teacher trainees and experienced primary school teachers in Germany. She’s found that giving feedback to students can be difficult for primary school teachers, and especially for teacher trainees, as programming is still new to them. Luisa’s seminar introduced a tool to help.
A unique approach: Visualising debugging with LitterBox
To address this issue, the University of Passau has initiated the primary::programming project. One of its flagship tools, LitterBox, offers a unique solution to debugging and is specifically designed for Scratch, a beginners’ programming language widely used in primary schools.
LitterBox serves as a static code debugging tool that transforms code examination into an engaging experience. With a nod to the Scratch cat, the tool visualises the debugging of Scratch code as checking the ‘litterbox’, categorising issues into ‘bugs’ and ‘smells’:
Bugs represent code patterns that have gone wrong, such as missing loops or specific blocks
Smells indicate that the code couldn’t be processed correctly because of duplications or unnecessary elements
What sets LitterBox apart is that it also rewards correct code by displaying ‘perfumes’. For instance, it will praise correct broadcasting or the use of custom blocks. For every identified problem or achievement, the tool provides short and direct feedback.
Luisa and her team conducted a study to gauge the effectiveness of LitterBox. In the study, teachers were given fictitious student code with bugs and were asked to first debug the code themselves and then explain in a manner appropriate to a student how to do the debugging.
The results were promising: teachers using LitterBox outperformed a control group with no access to the tool. However, the team also found that not all hints proved equally helpful. When hints lacked direct relevance to the code at hand, teachers found them confusing, which highlighted the importance of refining the tool’s feedback mechanisms.
Despite its limitations, LitterBox proved helpful in another important aspect of the teachers’ work: coding task creation. Novice students require structured tasks and help sheets when learning to code, and teachers often invest substantial time in developing these resources. While LitterBox does not guide educators in generating new tasks or adapting them to their students’ needs, in a second study conducted by Luisa’s team, teachers who had access to LitterBox not only received support in debugging their own code but also provided more scaffolding in task instructions they created for their students compared to teachers without LitterBox.
How to maximise the impact of new tools: use existing frameworks and materials
One important realisation that we had in the Q&A phase of Luisa’s seminar was that many different research teams are working on solutions for similar challenges, and that the impact of this research can be maximised by integrating new findings and resources. For instance, what the LitterBox tool cannot offer could be filled by:
Pedagogical frameworks to enhance teachers’ lessons and feedback structures. Frameworks such as PRIMM (Predict, Run, Investigate, Modify, and Make) or TIPP&SEE for Scratch projects (Title, Instructions, Purpose, Play & Sprites, Events, Explore) can serve as valuable resources. These frameworks provide a structured approach to lesson design and teaching methodologies, making it easier for teachers to create engaging and effective programming tasks. Additionally, by adopting semantic waves in the feedback for teachers and students, a deeper understanding of programming concepts can be fostered.
Existing courses and materials to aid task creation and adaptation. Our expert educators at the Raspberry Pi Foundation have not only created free lesson plans and courses for teachers and educators, but also dedicated non-formal learning paths for Scratch, Python, Unity, web design, and physical computing that can serve as a starting point for classroom tasks.
Exploring innovative ideas in computing education
As we navigate the evolving landscape of programming education, it’s clear that innovative tools like LitterBox can make a significant difference in the journey of both educators and students. By equipping educators with effective debugging and task creation solutions, we can create a more positive and engaging learning experience for students.
If you’re an educator, consider exploring how such tools can enhance your teaching and empower your students in their coding endeavours.
You can watch the recording of Luisa’s seminar here:
Sign up now to join our next seminar
If you’re interested in the latest developments in computing education, join us at one of our free, monthly seminars. In these sessions, researchers from all over the world share their innovative ideas and are eager to discuss them with educators and students. In our December seminar, Anaclara Gerosa (University of Edinburgh) will share her findings about how to design and structure early-years computing activities.
From 27 to 29 September 2023, we and the University of Cambridge are hosting the WiPSCE International Workshop on Primary and Secondary Computing Education Research for educators and researchers. This year, this annual conference will take place at Robinson College in Cambridge. We’re inviting all UK-based teachers of computing subjects to apply for one of five ‘all expenses paid’ places at this well-regarded annual event.
You could attend WiPSCE with all expenses paid
WiPSCE is where teachers and researchers discuss research that’s relevant to teaching and learning in primary and secondary computing education, to teacher training, and to related topics. You can find more information about the conference, including the preliminary programme, at wipsce.org.
As a teacher at the conference, you will:
Engage with high-quality international research in the field where you teach
Learn ways to use that research to develop your own classroom practice
Find out how to become an advocate in your professional community for research-informed approaches to the teaching of computing.
We are delighted that, thanks to generous funding from a funder, we can offer five free places to UK computing teachers, covering:
The registration fee
Two nights’ accommodation at Robinson College
Up to £500 supply costs paid to your school to cover your teaching
You need to be a currently practising, UK-based teacher of Computing (England), Computing Science (Scotland), ICT or Digital Technologies (N. Ireland), or Computer Science (Wales)
Your headteacher needs to be able to provide written confirmation that they are happy for you to attend WiPSCE
You need to be available to attend the whole conference from Wednesday lunchtime to Friday afternoon
You need to be willing to share what you learn from the conference with your colleagues at school and with your broader teaching community, including through writing an article about your experience and its relevance to your teaching for this blog or Hello World magazine
The application form will ask your for:
Your name and contact details
Demographic and school information
Your teaching experience
A statement of up to 500 words on why you’re applying and how you think your teaching practice, your school and your colleagues will benefit from your attendance at WiPSCE (500 words is the maximum, feel free to be concise)
After the 19 July deadline, we’re aiming to inform you of the outcome of your application on Friday 21 July.
We hope you are interested in attending WiPSCE and becoming an advocate for research-informed computing education practice. If your application is unsuccessful, we hope you consider coming along anyway. We’re looking forward to meeting you there. In the meantime, you can keep up with WiPSCE news on Twitter.
In the final seminar in our series on cross-disciplinary computing, Dr Tracy Gardner and Rebecca Franks, who work here at the Foundation, described the framework underpinning the Foundation’s non-formal learning pathways. They also shared insights from our recently published literature review about the impact that non-formal computing education has on learners.
Tracy and Rebecca both have extensive experience in teaching computing, and they are passionate about inspiring young learners and broadening access to computing education. In their work here, they create resources and content for learners in coding clubs and young people at home.
How non-formal learning creates opportunities for computing education
UNESCO defines non-formal learning as “institutionalised, intentional, and planned… an addition, alternative, and/or complement to formal education within the process of life-long learning of individuals”. In terms of computing education, this kind of learning happens in after-school programmes or children’s homes as they engage with materials that have been carefully designed by education providers.
At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we support two global networks of free, volunteer-led coding clubs where regular non-formal learning takes place: Code Club, teacher- and volunteer-led coding clubs for 9- to 13-year-olds taking place in schools in more than160 countries; and CoderDojo, volunteer-led programming clubs for young people aged 7–17 taking place in community venues and offices in 100 countries. Through free learning resources and other support, we enable volunteers to run their club sessions, offering versatile opportunities and creative, inclusive spaces for young people to learn about computing outside of the school curriculum. Volunteers who run Code Clubs or CoderDojos report that participating in the club sessions positively impacts participants’ programming skills and confidence.
Rebecca and Tracy are part of the team here that writes the learning resources young people in Code Clubs and CoderDojos (and beyond) use to learn to code and create technology.
Helping learners make things that matter to them
Rebecca started the seminar by describing how the team reviewed existing computing pedagogy research into non-formal learning, as well as large amounts of website visitor data and feedback from volunteers, to establish a new framework for designing and creating coding resources in the form of learning paths.
As Rebecca explained, non-formal learning paths should be designed to bridge the so-called ‘Turing tar-pit’: the gap between what learners want to do, and what they have the knowledge and resources to achieve.
To prevent learners from getting frustrated and ultimately losing interest in computing, learning paths need to:
Support learner’s design skills
Relate to things that matter to learners
When Rebecca and Tracy’s team create new learning paths, they first focus on the things that learners want to make. Then they work backwards to bridge the gap between learners’ big ideas and the knowledge and skills needed to create them. To do this, they use the 3…2…1…Make! framework they’ve developed.
Learning paths designed according to the framework are made up of three different types of project in a 3-2-1 structure:
Three Explore projects to introduce creators to a set of skills and provide step-by-step instructions to help them develop initial confidence
Two Design projects to allow creators to practise the skills they learned in the previous Explore projects, and to express themselves creatively while they grow in independence
One Invent project where creators use their skills to meet a project brief for a particular audience
Rebecca and Tracy’s team have created several new learning pathways based on the 3…2…1…Make! framework and received much positive feedback on them. They are now looking to develop more tools and libraries to support learners, to increase the accessibility of the paths, and also to conduct research into the impact of the framework.
New literature review of non-formal computing education showcases its positive impact
In the second half of the seminar, Tracy shared what the research literature says about the impact of non-formal learning. She and researchers at the Foundation particularly wanted to find out what the research says about computing education for K–12 in non-formal settings. They systematically reviewed 421 papers, identifying 88 papers from the last seven years that related to empirical research on non-formal computing education for young learners. Based on these 88 papers, they summarised the state of the field in a literature review.
So far, most studies of non-formal computing education have looked at knowledge and skill development in computing, as well as affective factors such as interest and perception. The cognitive impact of non-formal education has been generally positive. The papers Tracy and the research reviewed suggested that regular learning opportunities, such as weekly Code Clubs, were beneficial for learners’ knowledge development, and that active teaching of problem solving skills can lead to learners’ independence.
Non-formal computing education also seems to be beneficial in terms of affective factors (although it is unclear yet whether the benefits remain long-term, since most existing research studies conducted have been short-term ones). For example, out-of-school programmes can lead to more positive perception and increased awareness of computing for learners, and also boost learners’ confidence and self-efficacy if they have had little prior experience of computing. The social aspects of participating in coding clubs should not be underestimated, as learners can develop a sense of belonging and support as they work with their peers and mentors.
The literature review showed that non-formal computing complements formal in-school education in many ways. Not only can Code Clubs and CoderDojos be accessible and equitable spaces for all young people, because the people who run them can tailor learning to the individuals. Coding clubs such as these succeed in making computing fun and engaging by enabling a community to form and allowing learners to make things that are meaningful to them.
What existing studies in non-formal computing aren’t telling us
Another thing the literature review made obvious is that there are big gaps in the existing understanding of non-formal computing education that need to be researched in more detail. For example, most of the studies the papers in the literature review described took place with female students in middle schools in the US.
That means the existing research tells us little about non-formal learning:
In other geographic locations
In other educational settings, such as primary schools or after-school programmes
For a wider spectrum of learners
We would also love to see studies that hone in on:
The long-term impact of non-formal learning
Which specific factors contribute to positive outcomes
Non-formal learning about aspects of computing beyond programming
We’re excited to continue collaborating within the Foundation so that our researchers and our team creating non-formal learning content can investigate the impact of the 3…2…1…Make! framework.
This collaboration connects two of our long-term strategic goals: to engage millions of young people in learning about computing and how to create with digital technologies outside of school, and to deepen our understanding of how young people learn about computing and how to create with digital technologies, and to use that knowledge to increase the impact of our work and advance the field of computing education. Based on our research, we will iterate and improve the framework, in order to enable even more young people to realise their full potential through the power of computing and digital technologies.
Join our seminar series on primary computing education
From January, you can join our new monthly seminar series on primary (K–5) teaching and learning. In this series, we’ll hear insights into how our youngest learners develop their computing knowledge, so whether you’re a volunteer in a coding club, a teacher, a researcher, or simply interested in the topic, we’d love to see you at one of these monthly online sessions.
The first seminar, on Tuesday 10 January at 5pm UK time, will feature researchers and educators Dr Katie Rich and Carla Strickland. They will share findings on how to teach children about variables, one of the most difficult aspects of computing for young learners. Sign up now, and we will send you notifications and joining links for each seminar session.
We are excited to announce our next free online seminars, running monthly from January 2023 and focusing on primary school (K–5) teaching and learning of computing.
Our seminars, having covered various topics in computing education over the last three years, will now offer you a close look at current questions and research in primary computing education. Through this series we want to connect research and teaching practice, and further primary computing education across the globe.
Are these seminars for me?
Our upcoming seminars are for everyone interested in computing education, not just for primary school teachers — you are all cordially invited to join us. Previous seminars have been attended by a valuable mix of teachers, volunteers, tech industry professionals, and researchers, all keen to explore how computing education research can be put into practice.
Whether you teach in a classroom, or support learners in a coding club, you will find out how our youngest learners develop their computing knowledge. You’ll also explore with us what this means for your learning context in practical terms.
What you can expect from the online seminars
Each seminar starts with a presenter explaining, in easy-to-understand terms, some recent research they have done. The presentation is followed by a discussion in smaller groups. We then regroup for a Q&A session with the presenter.
Attendees of our previous seminars have said:
“The seminar will be useful in my practice when our coding club starts.”
“I love this initiative, your choice of speakers has been fantastic. You are creating a very valuable CPD resource for Computer Science teachers and educators all over the world. Thank you. 🙏”
“Just wanted to say a huge thank you for organising this. It was brilliant to hear the presentation but also the input from other educators in the breakout room. I currently teach in a department of one, which can be quite lonely, so to join other educators was brilliant and a real encouragement.”
Learn from specialists to benefit your own learners
Computer science has been taught in universities for many years, and only more recently has the subject been introduced in schools. That means there isn’t a lot of research about computing education for school-aged learners yet, and even less research about how young children of primary school age learn about computing.
That’s why we are excited to invite you to learn with us as we hear from international primary computing research teams who share their knowledge in our online seminars:
Tuesday 10 January 2023: Kicking off our series are Dr Katie Rich and Carla Strickland from Chicago with a seminar on how they developed new instructional materials for teaching variables in primary school. They will specifically focus on how they combined research with classroom realities, and share experiences of using their new materials in class.
Tuesday 7 February 2023: Dr Jean Salac from the University of Washington is particularly interested in identifying and addressing inequities in the computing classroom, and will speak about a new learning strategy that has been found to improve students’ understanding of computing concepts and to increase equal access to computing.
Tuesday 7 March 2023: Our own Dr Bobby Whyte from the Raspberry Pi Foundation will share practical examples of how primary computing can be integrated into literacy education. He will specifically look at storytelling elements within computing education and discuss the benefits of combining competency areas.
May 2023: Information coming soon
Tuesday 6 June 2023: In a collaborative seminar, Aim Unahalekhaka from Tufts University in Massachusetts will first present her research into how children learn coding through ScratchJr. Participants are encouraged to bring a tablet or device with ScratchJr to then look at practical project evaluations and teaching strategies that can help young learners create purposefully.
Tuesday 12 September 2023: Joining us from the University of Passau in Germany, Luisa Greifenstein will speak about how to give children appropriate feedback that encourages positive attitudes towards computing education. In particular, she will be looking at the effects of different feedback strategies and present a new Scratch tool that offers automated feedback.
October 2023: Information coming soon
Tuesday 7 November 2023: We are delighted to be joined by Dr Aman Yadav from Michigan State University who will focus on computational thinking and its value for primary schooling. In his seminar, he will not only discuss the unique opportunities for computational thinking in primary school but also discuss findings from a recent project that focused on teachers’ perspectives.
Sign up now to attend the seminars
All our seminars start at 17:00 UK time (18:00 CET / 12:00 noon ET / 9:00 PT) and take place in an online format. Sign up now to receive a calendar invitation and the link to join on the day of each seminar.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.