Tag Archives: primary school

Integrating computational thinking into primary teaching

Post Syndicated from Veronica Cucuiat original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/integrating-computational-thinking-into-primary-teaching/

“Computational thinking is really about thinking, and sometimes about computing.” – Aman Yadav, Michigan State University

Young people in a coding lesson.

Computational thinking is a vital skill if you want to use a computer to solve problems that matter to you. That’s why we consider computational thinking (CT) carefully when creating learning resources here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. However, educators are increasingly realising that CT skills don’t just apply to writing computer programs, and that CT is a fundamental approach to problem-solving that can be extended into other subject areas. To discuss how CT can be integrated beyond the computing classroom and help introduce the fundamentals of computing to primary school learners, we invited Dr Aman Yadav from Michigan State University to deliver the penultimate presentation in our seminar series on computing education for primary-aged children. 

In his presentation, Aman gave a concise tour of CT practices for teachers, and shared his findings from recent projects around how teachers perceive and integrate CT into their lessons.

Research in context

Aman began his talk by placing his team’s work within the wider context of computing education in the US. The computing education landscape Aman described is dominated by the National Science Foundation’s ambitious goal, set in 2008, to train 10,000 computer science teachers. This objective has led to various initiatives designed to support computer science education at the K–12 level. However, despite some progress, only 57% of US high schools offer foundational computer science courses, only 5.8% of students enrol in these courses, and just 31% of the enrolled students are female. As a result, Aman and his team have worked in close partnership with teachers to address questions that explore ways to more meaningfully integrate CT ideas and practices into formal education, such as:

  • What kinds of experiences do students need to learn computing concepts, to be confident to pursue computing?
  • What kinds of knowledge do teachers need to have to facilitate these learning experiences?
  • What kinds of experiences do teachers need to develop these kinds of knowledge? 

The CT4EDU project

At the primary education level, the CT4EDU project posed the question “What does computational thinking actually look like in elementary classrooms, especially in the context of maths and science classes?” This project involved collaboration with teachers, curriculum designers, and coaches to help them conceptualise and implement CT in their core instruction.

A child at a laptop

During professional development workshops using both plugged and unplugged tasks, the researchers supported educators to connect their day-to-day teaching practice to four foundational CT constructs:

  1. Debugging
  2. Abstraction
  3. Decomposition
  4. Patterns

An emerging aspect of the research team’s work has been the important relationship between vocabulary, belonging, and identity-building, with implications for equity. Actively incorporating CT vocabulary in lesson planning and classroom implementation helps students familiarise themselves with CT ideas: “If young people are using the language, they see themselves belonging in computing spaces”. 

A main finding from the study is that teachers used CT ideas to explicitly engage students in metacognitive thinking processes, and to help them be aware of their thinking as they solve problems. Rather than teachers using CT solely to introduce their students to computing, they used CT as a way to support their students in whatever they were learning. This constituted a fundamental shift in the research team’s thinking and future work, which is detailed further in a conceptual article

The Smithsonian Science for Computational Thinking project

The work conducted for the CT4EDU project guided the approach taken in the Smithsonian Science for Computational Thinking project. This project entailed the development of a curriculum for grades 3 and 5 that integrates CT into science lessons.

Teacher and young student at a laptop.

Part of the project included surveying teachers about the value they place on CT, both before and after participating in professional development workshops focused on CT. The researchers found that even before the workshops, teachers make connections between CT and the rest of the curriculum. After the workshops, an overwhelming majority agreed that CT has value (see image below). From this survey, it seems that CT ties things together for teachers in ways not possible or not achieved with other methods they’ve tried previously.  

A graph from Aman's seminar.

Despite teachers valuing the CT approach, asking them to integrate coding into their practices from the start remains a big ask (see image below). Many teachers lack knowledge or experience of coding, and they may not be curriculum designers, which means that we need to develop resources that allow teachers to integrate CT and coding in natural ways. Aman proposes that this requires a longitudinal approach, working with teachers over several years, using plugged and unplugged activities, and working closely with schools’ STEAM or specialist technology teachers where applicable to facilitate more computationally rich learning experiences in classrooms.

A graph from Aman's seminar.

Integrated computational thinking

Aman’s team is also engaged in a research project to integrate CT at middle school level for students aged 11 to 14. This project focuses on the question “What does CT look like in the context of social studies, English language, and art classrooms?”

For this project, the team conducted three Delphi studies, and consequently created learning pathways for each subject, which teachers can use to bring CT into their classrooms. The pathways specify practices and sub-practices to engage students with CT, and are available on the project website. The image below exemplifies the CT integration pathways developed for the arts subject, where the relationship between art and data is explored from both directions: by using CT and data to understand and create art, and using art and artistic principles to represent and communicate data. 

Computational thinking in the primary classroom

Aman’s work highlights the broad value of CT in education. However, to meaningfully integrate CT into the classroom, Aman suggests that we have to take a longitudinal view of the time and methods required to build teachers’ understanding and confidence with the fundamentals of CT, in a way that is aligned with their values and objectives. Aman argues that CT is really about thinking, and sometimes about computing, to support disciplinary learning in primary classrooms. Therefore, rather than focusing on integrating coding into the classroom, he proposes that we should instead talk about using CT practices as the building blocks that provide the foundation for incorporating computationally rich experiences in the classroom. 

Watch the recording of Aman’s presentation:

You can access Aman’s seminar slides as well.

You can find out more about connecting research to practice for primary computing education by watching the recordings of the other seminars in our series on primary (K–5) teaching and learning. In particular, Bobby Whyte discusses similar concepts to Aman in his talk on integrating primary computing and literacy through multimodal storytelling

Sign up for our seminars

Our 2024 seminar series is on the theme of teaching programming, with or without AI. In this series, we explore the latest research on how teachers can best support school-age learners to develop their programming skills.

On 13 February, we’ll hear from Majeed Kazemi (University of Toronto) about his work investigating whether AI code generator tools can support K-12 students to learn Python programming.

Sign up now to join the seminar:

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AI isn’t just robots: How to talk to young children about AI

Post Syndicated from Sway Grantham original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/how-to-talk-to-young-children-about-ai/

Young children have a unique perspective on the world they live in. They often seem oblivious to what’s going on around them, but then they will ask a question that makes you realise they did get some insight from a news story or a conversation they overheard. This happened to me with a class of ten-year-olds when one boy asked, with complete sincerity and curiosity, “And is that when the zombie apocalypse happened?” He had unknowingly conflated the Great Plague with television depictions of zombies taking over the world.

Child with tablet.
Photo by Patricia Prudente.

How to talk to young people about AI

Absorbing media and assimilating it into your existing knowledge is a challenge, and this is a concern when the media is full of big, scary headlines about artificial intelligence (AI) taking over the world, stealing jobs, and being sentient. As teachers and parents, you don’t need to know all the details about AI to answer young people’s questions, but you can avoid accidentally introducing alternate conceptions. This article offers some top tips to help you point those inquisitive minds in the right direction.

Child with tablet.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema.

AI is not a person

Technology companies like to anthropomorphise their products and give them friendly names. Why? Because it makes their products seem more endearing and less scary, and makes you more likely to include them in your lives. However, when you think of AI as a human with a name who needs you to say ‘please’ or is ‘there to help you’, you start to make presumptions about how it works, what it ‘knows’, and its morality. This changes what we ask, how much we trust an AI device’s responses, and how we behave when using the device. The device, though, does not ‘see’ or ‘know’ anything; instead, it uses lots of data to make predictions. Think of word association: if I say “bread”, I predict that a lot of people in the UK will think “butter”. Here, I’ve used the data I’ve collected from years of living in this country to predict a reasonable answer. This is all AI devices are doing. 

Child with phone.
Photo by bruce mars.

[AI] does not ‘see’ or ‘know’ anything; instead, it uses lots of data to make predictions.

When talking to young children about AI, try to avoid using pronouns such as ‘she’ or ‘he’. Where possible, avoid giving devices human names, and instead call them “computer”, to reinforce the idea that humans and computers are very different. Let’s imagine that a child in your class says, “Alexa told me a joke at the weekend — she’s funny!” You could respond, “I love using computers to find new jokes! What was it?” This is just a micro-conversation, but with it, you are helping to surreptitiously challenge the child’s perception of Alexa and the role of AI in it.

Where possible, avoid giving devices human names, and instead call them ‘computer’, to reinforce the idea that humans and computers are very different.

Another good approach is to remember to keep your emotions separate from computers, so as not to give them human-like characteristics: don’t say that the computer ‘hates’ you, or is ‘deliberately ignoring’ you, and remember that it’s only ‘helpful’ because it was told to be. Language is important, and we need to continually practise avoiding anthropomorphism.

AI isn’t just robots (actually, it rarely is)

The media plays a huge role in what we imagine when we talk about AI. For the media, the challenge is how to make lines of code and data inside a computer look exciting and recognisable to their audiences. The answer? Robots! When learners hear about AI taking over the world, it’s easy for them to imagine robots like those you’d find in a Marvel movie. Yet the majority of AI exists within systems they’re already aware of and are using — you might just need to help draw their attention to it.

Even better than just calling out uses of AI: try to have conversations about when things go wrong and AI systems suggest silly options.

For example, when using a word processor, you can highlight to learners that the software sometimes predicts what word you want to type next, and that this is an example of the computer using AI. When learners are using streaming services for music or TV and the service predicts something that they might want to watch or listen to next, point out that this is using AI technology. When they see their parents planning a route using a satnav, explain that the satnav system uses data and AI to plan the best route.

Even better than just calling out uses of AI: try to have conversations about when things go wrong and AI systems suggest silly options. This is a great way to build young people’s critical thinking around the use of computers. AI systems don’t always know best, because they’re just making predictions, and predictions can always be wrong.

AI complements humans

There’s a delicate balance between acknowledging the limitations of AI and portraying it as a problematic tool that we shouldn’t use. AI offers us great opportunities to improve the way we work, to get us started on a creative project, or to complete mundane tasks. However, it is just a tool, and tools complement the range of skills that humans already have. For example, if you gave an AI chatbot app the prompt, ‘Write a setting description using these four phrases: dark, scary, forest, fairy tale’, the first output from the app probably wouldn’t make much sense. As a human, though, you’d probably have to do far less work to edit the output than if you had had to write the setting description from scratch. Now, say you had the perfect example of a setting description, but you wanted 29 more examples, a different version for each learner in your class. This is where AI can help: completing a repetitive task and saving time for humans. 

Child with phone.
Photo by zhenzhong liu.

To help children understand how AI and humans complement each other, ask them the question, ‘What can’t a computer do?’ Answers that I have received before include, ‘Give me a hug’, ‘Make me laugh’, and ‘Paint a picture’, and these are all true. Can Alexa tell you a joke that makes you laugh? Yes — but a human created that joke. The computer is just the way in which it is being shared. Even with AI ‘creating’ new artwork, it is really only using data from something that someone else created. Humans are required. 

Overall, we must remember that young children are part of a world that uses AI, and that it is likely to be ever more present in the future. We need to ensure that they know how to use AI responsibly, by minimising their alternate conceptions. With our youngest learners, this means taking care with the language you choose and the examples you use, and explaining AI’s role as a tool.

To help children understand how AI and humans complement each other, ask them the question, ‘What can’t a computer do?’

These simple approaches are the first steps to empowering children to go on to harness this technology. They also pave the way for you to simply introduce the core concepts of AI in later computing lessons without first having to untangle a web of alternate conceptions.

This article also appears in issue 22 of Hello World, which is all about teaching and AI. Download your free PDF copy now.

If you’re an educator, you can use our free Experience AI Lessons to teach your learners the basics of how AI works, whatever your subject area.

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Culturally relevant Computing: Experiences of primary learners

Post Syndicated from Alex Hadwen-Bennett original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/culturally-relevant-pedagogy-experiences-primary-computing/

Today’s blog is written by Dr Alex Hadwen-Bennett, who we worked with to find out primary school learners’ experiences of engaging with culturally relevant Computing lessons. Alex is a Lecturer in Computing Education at King’s College London, where he undertakes research focusing on inclusive computing education and the pedagogy of making.

Despite many efforts to make a career in Computing more accessible, many groups of people are still underrepresented in the field. For instance, a 2022 report revealed that only 22% of people currently working in the IT industry in the UK are women. Additionally, among learners who study Computing at schools in England, Black Caribbean students are currently one of the most underrepresented groups. One approach that has been suggested to address this underrepresentation at school is culturally relevant pedagogy.

In a computing classroom, a girl laughs at what she sees on the screen.

For this reason, a particular focus of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s academic research programme is to support Computing teachers in the use of culturally relevant pedagogy. This pedagogy involves developing learning experiences that deliberately aim to enable all learners to engage with and succeed in Computing, including by bringing their culture and interests into the classroom.

The Foundation’s work in this area started with the development of guidelines for culturally relevant and responsive teaching together with a group of teachers and external researchers. The Foundation’s researchers then explored how a group of Computing teachers employed the guidelines in their own teaching. In a follow-on study funded by Cognizant, the team worked with 13 primary school teachers in England to adapt Computing lessons to make them culturally relevant for their learners. In this process, the teachers adapted a unit on photo editing for Year 4 (ages 8–9), and a unit about vector graphics for Year 5 (ages 9–10). As part of the project, I worked with the Foundation team to analyse and report on data gathered from focus groups of primary learners who had engaged with the adapted units.

At the beginning of this study, teachers adapted two units of work that cover digital literacy skills

Conducting the focus groups

For the focus groups, the Foundation team asked teachers from three schools to each choose four learners to take part. All children in the three focus groups had taken part in all the lessons involving the culturally adapted resources. The children were both boys and girls, and came from diverse cultural backgrounds where possible.

The questions for the focus groups were prepared in advance and covered:

  • Perceptions of Computing as a subject
  • Reflections of their experiences of the engaging with culturally adapted resources
  • Perceptions of who does Computing

Outcomes from the focus groups

“I feel happy that I see myself represented in some way.”

“It was nice to do something that actually represented you in many different ways, like your culture and your background.”

– Statements of learners who participated in the focus groups

When the learners were asked about what they did in their Computing lessons, most of them made references to working with and manipulating graphics; fewer made references to programming and algorithms. This emphasis on graphics is likely related to this being the most recent topic the learners engaged with. The learners were also asked about their reflections on the culturally adapted graphics unit that they had recently completed. Many of them felt that the unit gave them the freedom to incorporate things that related to their interests or culture. The learners’ responses also suggested that they felt represented in the work they completed during the unit. Most of them indicated that their interests were acknowledged, whereas fewer mentioned that they felt their cultural backgrounds were highlighted.

“Anyone can be good at computing if they have the passion to do it.”

– Statement by a learner who participated in a focus group

When considering who does computing, the learners made multiple references to people who keep trying or do not give up. Whereas only a couple of learners said that computer scientists need to be clever or intelligent to do computing. A couple of learners suggested that they believed that anyone can do computing. It is encouraging that the learners seemed to associate being good at computing with effort rather than with ability. However, it is unclear whether this is associated with the learners engaging with the culturally adapted resources.

Reflections and next steps

While this was a small-scale study, the focus groups findings do suggest that engaging with culturally adapted resources can make primary learners feel more represented in their Computing lessons. In particular, engaging with an adapted unit led learners to feel that their interests were recognised as well as, to a lesser extent, their cultural backgrounds. This suggests that primary-aged learners may identify their practical interests as the most important part of their background, and want to share this in class.

Two children code on laptops while an adult supports them.

Finally, the responses of the learners suggest that they feel that perseverance is a more important quality than intelligence for success in computing and that anyone can do it. While it is not possible to say whether this is directly related to their engagement with a culturally adapted unit, it would be an interesting area for further research.

More information and resources

You can find out more about culturally relevant pedagogy and the Foundation’s research on it, for example by:

The Foundation would like to extend thanks to Cognizant for funding this research, and to the primary computing teachers and learners who participated in the project. 

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Support for new computing teachers: A tool to find Scratch programming errors

Post Syndicated from Bonnie Sheppard original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/support-new-computing-teachers-debugging-scratch-litterbox/

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?

Two adults learn about computing at desktop computers.

In many countries, primary school teachers are holistic educators and often find themselves teaching computing despite having little or no experience in the field. In a recent seminar of our series on computing education for primary-aged children, Luisa Greifenstein told attendees that struggling with debugging and negative attitudes towards programming were among the top ten challenges mentioned by teachers.

Luisa Greifenstein.

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.

A screenshot from the LitterBox tool.
You can upload Scratch program files to LitterBox to analyse them. Click to enlarge.

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
A screenshot from the LitterBox tool.
The code patterns LitterBox recognises. Click to enlarge.

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.

A screenshot from the LitterBox tool.
LitterBox also identifies good programming practice. Click to enlarge.

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.

A bar chart showing that LitterBox helps computing teachers.

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.

This will be the final seminar in our series about primary computing education. Look out for news about the theme of our 2024 seminar series, which are coming soon.

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Young children’s ScratchJr coding projects: Assessment and support

Post Syndicated from Diana Kirby original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/childrens-scratchjr-projects-assessment-support/

Block-based programming applications like Scratch and ScratchJr provide millions of children with an introduction to programming; they are a fun and accessible way for beginners to explore programming concepts and start making with code. ScratchJr, in particular, is designed specifically for children between the ages of 5 and 7, enabling them to create their own interactive stories and games. So it’s no surprise that they are popular tools for primary-level (K–5) computing teachers and learners. But how can teachers assess coding projects built in ScratchJr, where the possibilities are many and children are invited to follow their imagination?

Aim Unahalekhala
Aim Unahalekhala

In the latest seminar of our series on computing education for primary-aged children, attendees heard about two research studies that explore the use of ScratchJr in K–2 education. The speaker, Apittha (Aim) Unahalekhala, is a graduate researcher at the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University. The two studies looked at assessing young children’s ScratchJr coding projects and understanding how they create projects. Both of the studies were part of the Coding as Another Language project, which sees computer science as a new literacy for the 21st century, and is developing a literacy-based coding curriculum for K–2.

How to evaluate children’s ScratchJr projects

ScratchJr offers children 28 blocks to choose from when creating a coding project. Some of these are simple, such as blocks that determine the look of a character or setting, while others are more complex, such as messaging blocks and loops. Children can combine the blocks in many different ways to create projects of different levels of complexity.

A child select blocks for a ScratchJr project on a tablet.
Selecting blocks for a ScratchJr project

At the start of her presentation, Aim described a rubric that she and her colleagues at DevTech have developed to assess three key aspects of a ScratchJr coding project. These aspects are coding concepts, project design, and purposefulness.

  • Coding concepts in ScratchJr are sequencing, repeats, events, parallelism, coordination, and the number parameter
  • Project design includes elaboration (number of settings and characters, use of speech bubbles) and originality (character and background customisation, animated looks, sounds)

The rubric lets educators or researchers:

  • Assess learners’ ability to use their coding knowledge to create purposeful and creative ScratchJr projects
  • Identify the level of mastery of each of the three key aspects demonstrated within the project
  • Identify where learners might need more guidance and support
The elements covered by the ScratchJr project evaluation rubric.
The elements covered by the ScratchJr project evaluation rubric. Click to enlarge.

As part of the study, Aim and her colleagues collected coding projects from two schools at the start, middle, and end of a curriculum unit. They used the rubric to evaluate the coding projects and found that project scores increased over the course of the unit.

They also found that, overall, the scores for the project design elements were higher than those for coding concepts: many learners enjoyed spending lots of time designing their characters and settings, but made less use of other features. However, the two scores were correlated, meaning that learners who devoted a lot of time to the design of their project also got higher scores on coding concepts.

The rubric is a useful tool for any teachers using ScratchJr with their students. If you want to try it in your classroom, the validated rubric is free to download from the DevTech research group’s website.

How do young children create a project?

The rubric assesses the output created by a learner using ScratchJr. But learning is a process, not just an end outcome, and the final project might not always be an accurate reflection of a child’s understanding.

By understanding more about how young children create coding projects, we can improve teaching and curriculum design for early childhood computing education.

In the second study Aim presented, she set out to explore this question. She conducted a qualitative observation of children as they created coding projects at different stages of a curriculum unit, and used Google Analytics data to conduct a quantitative analysis of the steps the children took.

A Scratch project creation process involving iteration.
A project creation process involving iteration

Her findings highlighted the importance of encouraging young learners to explore the full variety of blocks available, both by guiding them in how to find and use different blocks, and by giving them the time and tools they need to explore on their own.

She also found that different teaching strategies are needed at different stages of the curriculum unit to support learners. This helps them to develop their understanding of both basic and advanced blocks, and to explore, customise, and iterate their projects.

Early-unit strategy:

  • Encourage free play to self-discover different functions, especially basic blocks

Mid-unit strategy:

  • Set plans on how long children will need on customising vs coding
  • More guidance on the advanced blocks, then let children explore

End-of-unit strategy:

  • Provide multiple sessions to work
  • Promote iteration by encouraging children to keep improving code and adding details
Teaching strategies for different stages of a ScratchJr curriculum.
Teaching strategies for different stages of the curriculum

You can watch Aim’s full presentation here:

You can also access the seminar slides here.

Join our next seminar on primary computing education

At our next seminar, we welcome Aman Yadav (Michigan State University), who will present research on computational thinking in primary school. The session will take place online on Tuesday 7 November at 17:00 UK time. Don’t miss out and sign up now:

To find out more about connecting research to practice for primary computing education, you can find the rest of our upcoming monthly seminars on primary (K–5) teaching and learning and watch the recordings of previous seminars in this series.

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Digital making with Raspberry Pis in primary schools in Sarawak, Malaysia

Post Syndicated from Jenni Fletcher-McGrady original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/computing-education-primary-schools-sarawak-malaysia/

Dr Sue Sentance, Director of our Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, shares what she learned on a recent visit in Malaysia to understand more about the approach taken to computing education in the state of Sarawak.

Dr Sue Sentance

Computing education is a challenge around the world, and it is fascinating to see how different countries and education systems approach it. I recently had the opportunity to attend an event organised by the government of Sarawak, Malaysia, to see first-hand what learners and teachers are achieving thanks to the state’s recent policies.

Raspberry Pis and training for Sarawak’s primary schools

In Sarawak, the largest state of Malaysia, the local Ministry of Education, Innovation and Talent Development is funding an ambitious project through which all of Sarawak’s primary schools are receiving sets of Raspberry Pis. Learners use these as desktop computers and to develop computer science skills and knowledge, including the skills to create digital making projects.

The state of Sarawak, Malaysia circled on a map.
Sarawak is the largest state of Malaysia, situated on the island of Borneo

Crucially, the ministry is combining this hardware distribution initiative with a three-year programme of professional development for primary school teachers. They receive training known as the Raspberry Pi Training Programme, which starts with Scratch programming and incorporates elements of physical computing with the Raspberry Pis and sensors.

To date the project has provided 9436 kits (including Raspberry Pi computer, case, monitor, mouse, and keyboard) to schools, and training for over 1200 teachers.

The STEM Trailblazers event

In order to showcase what has been achieved through the project so far, students and teachers were invited to use their schools’ Raspberry Pis to create projects to prototype solutions to real problems faced by their communities, and to showcase these projects at a special STEM Trailblazers event.

Geographically, Sarawak is Malaysia’s largest state, but it has a much smaller population than the west of the country. This means that towns and villages are very spread out and teachers and students had large distances to travel to attend the STEM Trailblazers event. To partially address this, the event was held in two locations simultaneously, Kuching and Miri, and talks were live-streamed between both venues.

STEM Trailblazers featured a host of talks from people involved in the initiative. I was very honoured to be invited as a guest speaker, representing both the University of Cambridge and the Raspberry Pi Foundation as the Director of the Raspberry Pi Computing Education Research Centre.

Solving real-world problems

The Raspberry Pi projects at STEM Trailblazers were entered into a competition, with prizes for students and teachers. Most projects had been created using Scratch to control the Raspberry Pi as well as a range of sensors.

The children and teachers who participated came from both rural and urban areas, and it was clear that the issues they had chosen to address were genuine problems in their communities.

Many of the projects I saw related to issues that schools faced around heat and hydration: a Smart Bottle project reminded children to drink regularly, a shade creator project created shade when the temperature got too high, a teachers’ project told students that they could no longer play outside when the temperature exceeded 35 degrees, and a water cooling system project set off sprinklers when the temperature rose. Other themes of the projects were keeping toilets clean, reminding children to eat healthily, and helping children to learn the alphabet. One project that especially intrigued me was an alert system for large and troublesome birds that were a problem for rural schools.

Participants showcasing their project at the STEM Trailblazers event.

The creativity and quality of the projects on show was impressive given that all the students (and many of their teachers) had learned to program very recently, and also had to be quite innovative where they hadn’t been able to access all the hardware they needed to build their creations.

What we can learn from this initiative

Everyone involved in this project in Sarawak — including teachers, government representatives, university academics, and industry partners — is really committed to giving children the best opportunities to grow up with an understanding of digital technology. They know this is essential for their professional futures, and also fosters their creativity, independence, and problem-solving skills.

Young people showcasing their project at the STEM Trailblazers event.

Over the last ten years, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel widely in my capacity as a computing education researcher, and I’ve seen first-hand a number of the approaches countries are taking to help their young people gain the skills and understanding of computing technologies that they need for their futures.

It’s good for us to look beyond our own context to understand how countries across the world are preparing their young people to engage with digital technology. No matter how many similarities there are between two places, we can all learn from each other’s initiatives and ideas. In 2021 the Brookings Institution published a global review of how countries are progressing with this endeavour. Organisations such as UNESCO and WEF regularly publish reports that emphasise the importance for countries to develop their citizens’ digital skills, and also advanced technological skills. 

Young people showcasing their project at the STEM Trailblazers event.

The Sarawak government’s initiative is grounded in the use of Raspberry Pis as desktop computers for schools, which run offline where schools have no access to the internet. That teachers are also trained to use the Raspberry Pis to support learners to develop hands-on digital making skills is a really important aspect of the project.

Our commercial subsidiary Raspberry Pi Limited works with a company network of Approved Resellers around the globe; in this case the Malaysian reseller Cytron has been an enormous support in supplying Sarawak’s primary schools with Raspberry Pis and other hardware.

Schools anywhere in the world can also access the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s free learning and teaching resources, such as curriculum materials, online training courses for teachers, and our magazine for educators, Hello World. We are very proud to support the work being done in Sarawak.

As for what the future holds for Sarawak’s computing education, at the opening ceremony of the STEM Trailblazers event, the Deputy Minister announced that the event will be an annual occasion. That means every year more students and teachers will be able to come together, share their learning, and get excited about using digital making to solve the problems that matter to them.

The post Digital making with Raspberry Pis in primary schools in Sarawak, Malaysia appeared first on Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Hello World #21 out now: Focus on primary computing education

Post Syndicated from Gemma Coleman original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/hello-world-21-primary-computing-education/

How do we best prepare young children for a world filled with digital technology? This is the question the writers in our newest issue of Hello World respond to with inspiration and ideas for computing education in primary school.

Cover of Hello World issue 21.

It is vital that young children gain good digital literacy skills and understanding of computing concepts, which they can then build on as they grow up. Digital technology is here to stay, and as Sethi De Clercq points out in his article, we need to prepare our youngest learners for circumstances and jobs that don’t yet exist.

Primary computing education: Inspiration and ideas

Issue 21 of Hello World covers a big range of topics in the theme of primary computing education, including:

  • Cross-curricular project ideas to keep young learners engaged
  • Perfecting typing skills in the primary school classroom
  • Using picture books to introduce programming concepts to children
  • Toolkits for new and experienced computing primary teachers, by Neil Rickus and Catherine Archer
  • Explorations of different approaches to improving diversity in computing and instilling a sense of belonging from the very start of a child’s educational journey, by Chris Lovell and Peter Marshman

The issue also has useful news and updates about our work: we share insights from our primary-specialist learning managers, tell you a bit about the research presented at our ongoing primary education seminar series, and include some relevant lesson plans from The Computing Curriculum.

A child at a laptop in a classroom in rural Kenya.

As always, you’ll find many other articles to support and inspire you in your computing teaching in this new issue. Topics include programming with dyslexia, exploring filter bubbles with your learners to teach them about data science, and using metaphors, similes, and analogies to help your learners understand abstract concepts.

What do you think?

This issue of Hello World focusses on primary computing education because readers like you told us in the annual readers’ survey that they’d like more articles for primary teachers.

We love to hear your ideas about what we can do to continue making Hello World interesting and relevant for you. So please get in touch on Twitter with your thoughts and suggestions.

The post Hello World #21 out now: Focus on primary computing education appeared first on Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Preparing young children for a digital world | Hello World #21

Post Syndicated from Sway Grantham original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/preparing-young-children-digital-world-hello-world-21/

How do we teach our youngest learners digital and computing skills? Hello World‘s issue 21 will focus on this question and all things primary school computing education. We’re excited to share this new issue with you on Tuesday 30 May. Today we’re giving you a taste by sharing an article from it, written by our own Sway Grantham.

Cover of Hello World issue 21.

How are you preparing young children for a world filled with digital technology? Technology use of our youngest learners is a hotly debated topic. From governments to parents and from learning outcomes to screen-time rules, everyone has an opinion on the ‘right’ approach. Meanwhile, many young children encounter digital technology as a part of their world at home. For example in the UK, 87 percent of 3- to 4-year-olds and 93 percent of 5- to 7-year-olds went online at home in 2023. Schools should be no different.

A girl doing digital making on a tablet

As educators, we have a responsibility to prepare learners for life in a digital world. We want them to understand its uses, to be aware of its risks, and to have access to the wide range of experiences unavailable without it. And we especially need to consider the children who do not encounter technology at home. Education should be a great equaliser, so we need to ensure all our youngest learners have access to the skills they need to realise their full potential.

Exploring technology and the world

A major aspect of early-years or kindergarten education is about learners sharing their world with each other and discovering that everyone has different experiences and does things in their own way. Using digital technology is no different.

Allowing learners to share their experiences of using digital technology both accepts the central role of technology in our lives today and also introduces them to its broader uses in helping people to learn, talk to others, have fun, and do work. At home, many young learners may use technology to do just one of these things. Expanding their use of technology can encourage them to explore a wider range of skills and to see technology differently.

A girl shows off a robot she has built.

In their classroom environment, these explorations can first take place as part of the roleplay area of a classroom, where learners can use toys to show how they have seen people use technology. It may seem counterintuitive that play-based use of non-digital toys can contribute to reducing the digital divide, but if you don’t know what technology can do, how can you go about learning to use it? There is also a range of digital roleplay apps (such as the Toca Boca apps) that allow learners to recreate their experiences of real-world situations, such as visiting the hospital, a hair salon, or an office. Such apps are great tools for extending roleplay areas beyond the resources you already have.

Another aspect of a child’s learning that technology can facilitate is their understanding of the world beyond their local community. Technology allows learners to explore the wider world and follow their interests in ways that are otherwise largely inaccessible. For example:

  • Using virtual reality apps, such as Expeditions Pro, which lets learners explore Antarctica or even the bottom of the ocean
  • Using augmented reality apps, such as Octagon Studio’s 4D+ cards, which make sea creatures and other animals pop out of learners’ screens
  • Doing a joint project with a class of children in another country, where learners blog or share ‘email’ with each other

Each of these opportunities gives children a richer understanding of the world while they use technology in meaningful ways.

Technology as a learning tool

Beyond helping children to better understand our world, technology offers opportunities to be expressive and imaginative. For example, alongside your classroom art activities, how about using an app like Draw & Tell, which helps learners draw pictures and then record themselves explaining what they are drawing? Or what about using filters on photographs to create artistic portraits of themselves or their favourite toys? Digital technology should be part of the range of tools learners can access for creative play and expression, particularly where it offers opportunities that analogue tools don’t.

Young learners at computers in a classroom.

Using technology is also invaluable for learners who struggle with communication and language skills. When speaking is something you find challenging, it can often be intimidating to talk to others who speak much more confidently. But speaking to a tablet? A tablet only speaks as well as you do. Apps to record sounds and listen back to them are a helpful way for young children to learn about how clear their speech is and practise speech exercises. ChatterPix Kids is a great tool for this. It lets learners take a photo of an object, e.g. their favourite soft toy, and record themselves talking about it. When they play back the recording, the app makes it look like the toy is saying their words. This is a very engaging way for young learners to practise communicating.

Technology is part of young people’s world

No matter how we feel about the role of technology in the lives of young people, it is a part of their world. We need to ensure we are giving all learners opportunities to develop digital skills and understand the role of technology, including how people can use it for social good.

A woman and child follow instructions to build a digital making project at South London Raspberry Jam.

This is not just about preparing them for their computing education (although that’s definitely a bonus!) or about online safety (although this is vital — see my articles in Hello World issue 15 and issue 19 for more about the topic). It’s about their right to be active citizens in the digital world.

So I ask again: how are you preparing young children for a digital world?

Subscribe to the Hello World digital edition for free

The first experiences children have with learning about computing and digital technologies are formative. That’s why primary computing education should be of interest to all educators, no matter what the age of your learners is. This issue covers for example:

And there’s much more besides. So don’t miss out on this upcoming issue of Hello World — subscribe for free today to receive every PDF edition in your inbox on the day of publication.

The post Preparing young children for a digital world | Hello World #21 appeared first on Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Introducing data science concepts and skills to primary school learners

Post Syndicated from Katharine Childs original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/data-science-data-literacy-primary-school-scotland/

Every day, most of us both consume and create data. For example, we interpret data from weather forecasts to predict our chances of a good weather for a special occasion, and we create data as our carbon footprint leaves a trail of energy consumption information behind us. Data is important in our lives, and countries around the world are expanding their school curricula to teach the knowledge and skills required to work with data, including at primary (K–5) level.

In our most recent research seminar, attendees heard about a research-based initiative called Data Education in Schools. The speakers, Kate Farrell and Professor Judy Robertson from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, shared how this project aims to empower learners to develop data literacy skills and succeed in a data-driven world.

“Data literacy is the ability to ask questions, collect, analyse, interpret and communicate stories about data.”

– Kate Farrell & Prof. Judy Robertson

Being a data citizen

Scotland’s national curriculum does not explicitly mention data literacy, but the topic is embedded in many subjects such as Maths, English, Technologies, and Social Studies. Teachers in Scotland, particularly in primary schools, have the flexibility to deliver learning in an interdisciplinary way through project-based learning. Therefore, the team behind Data Education in Schools developed a set of cross-curricular data literacy projects. Educators and education policy makers in other countries who are looking to integrate computing topics with other subjects may also be interested in this approach.

Becoming a data citizen involves finding meaning in data, controlling your personal data trail, being a critical consumer of data, and taking action based on data.
Data citizens have skills they need to thrive in a world shaped by digital technology.

The Data Education in Schools projects are aimed not just at giving learners skills they may need for future jobs, but also at equipping them as data citizens in today’s world. A data citizen can think critically, interpret data, and share insights with others to effect change.

Kate and Judy shared an example of data citizenship from a project they had worked on with a primary school. The learners gathered data about how much plastic waste was being generated in their canteen. They created a data visualisation in the form of a giant graph of types of rubbish on the canteen floor and presented this to their local council.

A child arranges objects to visualise data.
Sorting food waste from lunch by type of material

As a result, the council made changes that reduced the amount of plastic used in the canteen. This shows how data citizens are able to communicate insights from data to influence decisions.

A cycle for data literacy projects

Across its projects, the Data Education in Schools initiative uses a problem-solving cycle called the PPDAC cycle. This cycle is a useful tool for creating educational resources and for teaching, as you can use it to structure resources, and to concentrate on areas to develop learner skills.

The PPDAC project cycle.
The PPDAC data problem-solving cycle

The five stages of the cycle are: 

  1. Problem: Identifying the problem or question to be answered
  2. Plan: Deciding what data to collect or use to answer the question
  3. Data: Collecting the data and storing it securely
  4. Analysis: Preparing, modelling, and visualising the data, e.g. in a graph or pictogram
  5. Conclusion: Reviewing what has been learned about the problem and communicating this with others 

Smaller data literacy projects may focus on one or two stages within the cycle so learners can develop specific skills or build on previous learning. A large project usually includes all five stages, and sometimes involves moving backwards — for example, to refine the problem — as well as forwards.

Data literacy for primary school learners

At primary school, the aim of data literacy projects is to give learners an intuitive grasp of what data looks like and how to make sense of graphs and tables. Our speakers gave some great examples of playful approaches to data. This can be helpful because younger learners may benefit from working with tangible objects, e.g. LEGO bricks, which can be sorted by their characteristics. Kate and Judy told us about one learner who collected data about their clothes and drew the results in the form of clothes on a washing line — a great example of how tangible objects also inspire young people’s creativity.

In a computing classroom, a girl laughs at what she sees on the screen.

As learners get older, they can begin to work with digital data, including data they collect themselves using physical computing devices such as BBC micro:bit microcontrollers or Raspberry Pi computers.

Free resources for primary (and secondary) schools

For many attendees, one of the highlights of the seminar was seeing the range of high-quality teaching resources for learners aged 3–18 that are part of the Data Education in Schools project. These include: 

  • Data 101 videos: A set of 11 videos to help primary and secondary teachers understand data literacy better.
  • Data literacy live lessons: Data-related activities presented through live video.
  • Lesson resources: Lots of projects to develop learners’ data literacy skills. These are mapped to the Scottish primary and secondary curriculum, but can be adapted for use in other countries too.

More resources are due to be published later in 2023, including a set of prompt cards to guide learners through the PPDAC cycle, a handbook for teachers to support the teaching of data literacy, and a set of virtual data-themed escape rooms.  

You may also be interested in the units of work on data literacy skills that are part of The Computing Curriculum, our complete set of classroom resources to teach computing to 5- to 16-year-olds.

Join our next seminar on primary computing education

At our next seminar we welcome Aim Unahalekhaka from Tufts University, USA, who will share research about a rubric to evaluate young learners’ ScratchJr projects. If you have a tablet with ScratchJr installed, make sure to have it available to try out some activities. The seminar will take place online on Tuesday 6 June at 17.00 UK time, sign up now to not miss out.

To find out more about connecting research to practice for primary computing education, you can see a list of our upcoming monthly seminars on primary (K–5) teaching and learning and watch the recordings of previous seminars in this series.

The post Introducing data science concepts and skills to primary school learners appeared first on Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Supporting beginner programmers in primary school using TIPP&SEE

Post Syndicated from Bobby Whyte original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/teaching-programming-in-primary-school-tippsee/

Every young learner needs a successful start to their learning journey in the primary computing classroom. One aspect of this for teachers is to introduce programming to their learners in a structured way. As computing education is introduced in more schools, the need for research-informed strategies and approaches to support beginner programmers is growing. Over recent years, researchers have proposed various strategies to guide teachers and students, such as the block model, PRIMM, and, in the case of this month’s seminar, TIPP&SEE.

A young person smiles while using a laptop.
We need to give all learners a successful start in the primary computing classroom.

We are committed to make computing and creating with digital technologies accessible to all young people, including through our work with educators and researchers. In our current online research seminar series, we focus on computing education for primary-aged children (K–5, ages 5 to 11). In the series’ second seminar, we were delighted to welcome Dr Jean Salac, researcher in the Code & Cognition Lab at the University of Washington.

Dr Jean Salac
Dr Jean Salac

Jean’s work sits across computing education and human-computer interaction, with an emphasis on justice-focused computing for youth. She talked to the seminar attendees about her work on developing strategies to support primary school students learning to program in Scratch. Specifically, Jean described an approach called TIPP&SEE and how teachers can use it to guide their learners through programming activities.

What is TIPP&SEE?

TIPP&SEE is a metacognitive approach for programming in Scratch. The purpose of metacognitive strategies is to help students become more aware of their own learning processes.

The TIPP&SEE learning strategy is a sequence of steps named Title, Instructions, Purpose, Play, Sprites, Events, Explore.
The stages of the TIPP&SEE approach

TIPP&SEE scaffolds students as they learn from example Scratch projects: TIPP (Title, Instructions, Purpose, Play) is a scaffold to read and run a Scratch project, while SEE (Sprites, Events, Explore) is a scaffold to examine projects more deeply and begin to adapt them. 

Using, modifying and creating

TIPP&SEE is inspired by the work of Irene Lee and colleagues who proposed a progressive three-stage approach called Use-Modify-Create. Following that approach, learners move from reading pre-existing programs (“not mine”) to adapting and creating their own programs (“mine”) and gradually increase ownership of their learning.

A diagram of the Use-Create-Modify learning strategy for programming, which involves moving from exploring existing programs to writing your own.
TIPP&SEE builds on the Use-Modify-Create progression.

Proponents of scaffolded approaches like Use-Modify-Create argue that engaging learners in cycles of using existing programs (e.g. worked examples) before they move to adapting and creating new programs encourages ownership and agency in learning. TIPP&SEE builds on this model by providing additional scaffolding measures to support learners.

Impact of TIPP&SEE

Jean presented some promising results from her research on the use of TIPP&SEE in classrooms. In one study, fourth-grade learners (age 9 to 10) were randomly assigned to one of two groups: (i) Use-Modify-Create only (the control group) or (ii) Use-Modify-Create with TIPP&SEE. Jean found that, compared to learners in the control group, learners in the TIPP&SEE group:

  • Were more thorough, and completed more tasks
  • Wrote longer scripts during open-ended tasks
  • Used more learned blocks during open-ended tasks
A graph showing that learners using TIPP&SEE outperformed learners using only Use-Modify-Create in a research study.
The TIPP&SEE group performed better than the control group in assessments

In another study, Jean compared how learners in the TIPP&SEE and control groups performed on several cognitive tests. She found that, in the TIPP&SEE group, students with learning difficulties performed as well as students without learning difficulties. In other words, in the TIPP&SEE group the performance gap was much narrower than in the control group. In our seminar, Jean argued that this indicates the TIPP&SEE scaffolding provides much-needed support to diverse groups of students.

Using TIPP&SEE in the classroom

TIPP&SEE is a multi-step strategy where learners start by looking at the surface elements of a program, and then move on to examining the underlying code. In the TIPP phase, learners first read the title and instructions of a Scratch project, identify its purpose, and then play the project to see what it does.

The TIPP&SEE learning strategy is a sequence of steps named Title, Instructions, Purpose, Play, Sprites, Events, Explore.

In the second phase, SEE, learners look inside the Scratch project to click on sprites and predict what each script is doing. They then make changes to the Scratch code and see how the project’s output changes. By changing parameters, learners can observe which part of the output changes as a result and then reason how each block functions. This practice is called deliberate tinkering because it encourages learners to observe changes while executing programs multiple times with different parameters.

The TIPP&SEE learning strategy is a sequence of steps named Title, Instructions, Purpose, Play, Sprites, Events, Explore.

You can read more of Jean’s research on TIPP&SEE on her website. There’s also a video on how TIPP&SEE can be used, and free lesson resources based on TIPP&SEE are available in Elementary Computing for ALL and Scratch Encore.

Learning about learning in computing education

Jean’s talk highlighted the need for computing to be inclusive and to give equitable access to all learners. The field of computing education is still in its infancy, though our understanding of how young people learn about computing is growing. We ourselves work to deepen our understanding of how young people learn through computing and digital making experiences.

In our own research, we have been investigating similar teaching approaches for programming, including the use of the PRIMM approach in the UK, so we were very interested to learn about different approaches and country contexts. We are grateful to Dr Jean Salac for sharing her work with researchers and teachers alike. Watch the recording of Jean’s seminar to hear more:

Free support for teaching programming and more to primary school learners

If you are looking for more free resources to help you structure your computing lessons:

Join our next seminar

In the next seminar of our online series on primary computing, I will be presenting my research on integrated computing and literacy activities. Sign up now to join us for this session on Tues 7 March:

As always, the seminars will take place online on the first Tuesday of the month at 17:00–18:30 UK time. Hope to see you there!

The post Supporting beginner programmers in primary school using TIPP&SEE appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Combining computing and maths to teach primary learners about variables

Post Syndicated from Katharine Childs original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/variables-primary-school-computing-maths-education-seminar/

In our first seminar of 2023, we were delighted to welcome Dr Katie Rich and Carla Strickland. They spoke to us about teaching the programming construct of variables in Grade 3 and 4 (age 8 to 10).

We are hearing from a diverse range of speakers in our current series of monthly online research seminars focused on primary (K-5) computing education. Many of them work closely with educators to translate research findings into classroom practice to make sure that all our younger learners have positive first experiences of learning computing. An important goal of their research is to impact the development of pedagogy, resources, and professional development to support educators to deliver computing concepts with confidence.

Variables in computing and mathematics

Dr Katie Rich (American Institutes of Research) and Carla Strickland (UChicago STEM Education) are both part of a team that worked on a research project called Everyday Computing, which aims to integrate computational thinking into primary mathematics lessons. A key part of the Everyday Computing project was to develop coherent learning resources across a number of school years. During the seminar, Katie and Carla presented on a study in the project that revolved around teaching variables in Grade 3 and 4 (age 8 to 10) by linking this computing concept to mathematical concepts such as area, perimeter, and fractions.

Young person using Scratch.

Variables are used in both mathematics and computing, but in significantly different ways. In mathematics, a variable, often represented by a single letter such as x or y, corresponds to a quantity that stays the same for a given problem. However, in computing, a variable is an identifier used to label data that may change as a computer program is executed. A variable is one of the programming constructs that can be used to generalise programs to make them work for a range of inputs. Katie highlighted that the research team was keen to explore the synergies and tensions that arise when curriculum subjects share terms, as is the case for ‘variable’. 

Defining a learning trajectory

At the start of the project, in order to be able to develop coherent learning resources across school years, the team reviewed research papers related to teaching the programming construct of variables. In the papers, they found a variety of learning goals that related to facts (what learners need to know) and skills (what learners need to be able to do). They grouped these learning goals and arranged the groups into ‘levels of thinking’, which were then mapped onto a learning trajectory to show progression pathways for learning.

Four of the five levels of thinking identified in the study: Data storer, data user, variable user, variable creator.
Four of the five levels of thinking identified in the study: Data Storer, Data User, Variable User, Variable Creator. Click to enlarge.

Learning materials about variables

Carla then shared three practical examples of learning resources their research team created that integrated the programming construct of variables into a maths curriculum. The three activities, described below, form part of a series of lessons called Action Fractions. You can read more about the series of lessons in this research paper.

Robot Boxes is an unplugged activity that is positioned at the Data User level of thinking. It relates to creating instructions for a fictional robot. Learners have to pay attention to different data the robot needs in order to draw a box, such as the length and width, and also to the value that the robot calculates as area of the box. The lesson uses boxes on paper as concrete representations of variables to which learners can physically add values.


Ambling Animals is set at the ‘Data Storer’ and ‘Variable Interpreter’ levels of thinking. It includes a Scratch project to help students to locate and compare fractions on number lines. During this lesson, find a variable that holds the value of the animal that represents the larger of two fractions.


Adding Fractions draws on facts and skills from the ‘Variable Interpreter’ and ‘Variable Implementer’ levels of thinking and also includes a Scratch project. The Scratch project visualises adding fractions with the same denominator on a number line. The lesson starts to explain why variables are so important in computer programs by demonstrating how using a variable can make code more efficient. 

Takeaways: Cross-curricular teaching, collaborative research

Teaching about the programming construct of variables can be challenging, as it requires young learners to understand abstract ideas. The research Katie and Carla presented shows how integrating these concepts into a mathematics curriculum is one way to highlight tangible uses of variables in everyday problems. The levels of thinking in the learning trajectory provide a structure helping teachers to support learners to develop their understanding and skills; the same levels of thinking could be used to introduce variables in other contexts and curricula.

A learner does physical computing in the primary school classroom.

Many primary teachers use cross-curricular learning to increase children’s engagement and highlight real-world examples. The seminar showed how important it is for teachers to pay attention to terms used across subjects, such as the word ‘variable’, and to explicitly explain a term’s different meanings. Katie and Carla shared a practical example of this when they suggested that computing teachers need to do more to stress the difference between equations such as xy = 45 in maths and assignment statements such as length = 45 in computing.

The Everyday Computing project resources were created by a team of researchers and educators who worked together to translate research findings into curriculum materials. This type of collaboration can be really valuable in driving a research agenda to directly improve learning outcomes for young people in classrooms. 

How can this research influence your classroom practice or other activities as an educator? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. We’ll be continuing to reflect on this question throughout the seminar series.

You can watch Katie’s and Carla’s full presentation here:

Join our seminar series on primary computing education

Our monthly seminar series on primary (K–5) teaching and learning is of interest to a global audience of educators, including those who want to understand the prior learning experiences of older learners.

We continue on Tuesday 7 February at 17.00 UK time, when we will hear from Dr Jean Salac, University of Washington. Jean will present her work in identifying inequities in elementary computing instruction and in developing a learning strategy, TIPP&SEE, to address these inequities. Sign up now, and we will send you a joining link for the session.

The post Combining computing and maths to teach primary learners about variables appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Spotlight on primary computing education in our 2023 seminar series

Post Syndicated from Bonnie Sheppard original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/primary-computing-education-research-seminar-series-2023/

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.

Two children code on laptops while an adult supports them.

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.

Learner using Scratch on a laptop.

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. 

Young learners at computers in a classroom.

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.

We look forward to seeing you soon, and to discussing with you how we can apply research results to better support all our learners.

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