The journal of “Informatics in Education” has decided to start publishing of Special Issues once a year. This is a reward to guest editors, who have extended the cooperation and relationship with authors, and this way have augmented the visibility of discussed academic topics in the academic research community.
The first special issue is devoted to Pedagogy of Computational Thinking and Programming. Computational thinking skills, forming the basis for programming and coding, is at the same time the logical base for programming concepts. On the one hand, it has become a subject of international awareness regarding preschool, primary, and secondary levels of education, on the other hand, computational thinking still remains a narrow field, which is taught at the level of higher education and computing skills development is rather limited in certain occupational groups.
Children and young adults are now growing up in a world that is markedly different from that witnessed by previous generations, where computers, mobile phones, the Internet and social media networks are predominantly intertwined with daily life activities. As a result, their approach to problem solving, learning experiences, and thinking skills have significantly changed.
However, the knowledge of how to use technologies is forming an important part of our life today, and the actual understanding of the rationale, which is behind these technologies, are two the very different propositions.
Learning the basic concepts, related to computer science and programming, learners can better understand the digital world, in which they live, and at the same time they can improve the quality of their connections to the world. Learning of programming, as well as their understanding of the logic of science, that controls these new technologies, lie behind the entertainment, which technologies have brought about. This has become a much larger discovery, both for young children and for young adults. As a result, it contributes to their digital transformations. In this context, programming becomes one of the basic digital literacy skills important for the contemporary digital age.
The general-purpose programming languages, commonly used today for adults, are text-based, but the use of graphic-based tools for children and young adults are increasing. The tools and methods used in teaching of programming are being enriched with different hardware-based tools: starting from programming of toys at the introductory level, moving to unplugged activity-based computer science applications, adopting game and creative drama approaches, and finally, the advanced physical and robotic programming.
In this context, looking from a pedagogical perspective, this special issue aims at bringing together different applications and approaches to the educational process of programming at different ages and levels, within the triangle of software, hardware and method. In addition to analyses of literature reviews and unplugged activities, there are block-based programmes, mobile-based approaches and computing behaviours discussed in this issue. Although a limited number of articles can be published within this special issue, the articles chosen to be published have the potential for future studies, will hopefully be of interest to many researchers and encourage them to find the effective ways of teaching programming across all education levels.
I would like to thank all the authors, who have contributed to this special issue and shared their pedagogical experiences of teaching computational thinking and programming.
The article discusses the findings of longitudinal studies (three stages spanning 6 months) which were to investigate the process of acquiring the ability to comprehension program code by the computer science students having started to learn to program. The studies were conducted with the use of a knowledge measurement test, the diagnostic survey, and eye tracking technology that enabled the recording of movement of the subjects’ eyes and an analysis of the patterns of information processing during solving programming problems. The obtained results have shown that the students solved the tasks most effectively in the last stage of the research during which they obtained the highest indicator of correct answers in the significantly shortest time. In the last stage of the research the dominant form of the algorithmic problem analysis was code, in two previous it was flowchart. The eye tracking data have shown that regardless of the research stage the code analysis was definitely connected with a greater number of fixations, with very near values of time devoted to solving those two forms of the algorithm. The participants who increased their competences in a scope of the program code analysis had a significantly greater saccade amplitude average (SAA) and a significantly shorter fixation duration average (FDA) in the last stage of the research comparing to previous ones. The results suggest that the FDA and SAA are parameters sensitive to the development of program comprehension skills.
Programming is one of the most important aspects of a Computing course. Teaching programming is a challenging task due to a number of factors, ranging from lack of student problem solving skills to different teaching methods. This paper focuses on Maltese Computing teachers’ perspectives about the difficulties encountered when teaching programming to secondary school students in order to determine whether introducing programming to secondary school students through creating mobile-based games is an effective method to teach programming constructs. A resource pack consisting of various activities using MIT App Inventor 2 was created which incorporated constructivist approaches to teaching. This resource pack was reviewed by the teachers and their feedback was collected by means of a case study. The teachers agreed that developing mobile-based games would be highly stimulating to their students but there were uncertainties how this would affect students with different learning abilities and due to a general lack of computational thinking and problem-solving skills by most students.
This paper investigates unplugged computing as a formal pedagogical strategy to teaching computing to a Maltese secondary class of Year 9 students. It aims at identifying the effectiveness of this pedagogy outlining the strengths and weaknesses in its application, taking into consideration the level of attainment for students, as well as the impact on teachers’ lesson preparation. This research study is based on the delivery of five unplugged activities. It analyses students’ reaction when exposed to such unplugged activities to assess the viability of using this pedagogy when teaching computing concepts in a formal setting. The study concludes that unplugged computing is an effective pedagogical strategy that helps attain a high level of engagement and student involvement, encouraging teamwork and collaboration. Students experience a wide attention span and good retention through the constant link of computing scenarios to real-life examples and the use of tangible non-computing related objects. Notwithstanding, the study also identifies certain limitations of this pedagogy, mainly that it is not sufficient as a standalone pedagogy, but needs to be applied in conjunction with other pedagogies to be able to cover all the expected learning objectives of the curriculum.
Loops concept is one of the basic programming concepts. Students have difficulties in learning loops concept. Helping learners understand loops is an important task. Visualization is one of the ways to help students improve their understanding. The aim of the study was to construct and evaluate a visualization based instruction related to loops. A mixed method study was conducted. In the experimental phase of the study, the effect of visualization based instruction on pre-service teachers’ achievement, perceived learning and programming attitude was examined. In the qualitative phase of the study, the main purpose was to get more in depth data related to experimental phase. Visualization based instruction helped pre-service teachers improve their understanding of loops concept.
Computational thinking (CT) has been introduced in primary schools worldwide. However, rich classroom-based evidence and research on how to assess and support students’ CT through programming are particularly scarce. This empirical study investigates 4th grade students’ (N = 57) CT in a comparatively comprehensive and fine-grained manner by assessing their Scratch projects (N = 325) with a framework that was revised from previous studies to aim towards enhancing CT. The results demonstrate in detail the various coding patterns and code constructs the students programmed in assorted projects throughout a programming course and the extent to which they had conceptual encounters with CT. Notably, the projects indicated CT diversely, and the students altogether encountered dissimilar areas in CT. To target the acquisition of CT broadly, manifold programming activities are necessary to introduce in the classroom. Furthermore, we discuss the possibilities of applying the assessment framework employed herein to support CT education through Scratch in classrooms.
At 21st century Computational Thinking (CT) is considered a fundamental skill that anyone should possess and develop from a young age. Serious games and more specifically educational games (EGs) are a promising means of introducing algorithmic thinking and programming concepts and engaging students through the process of learning. In this article, a new EG called BlocklyScript is presented. BlocklyScript aims to help students develop their CT by learning basic programming concepts, designing algorithms and correcting mistakes. During the designing phase different EGs were taken under consideration and an EG design framework was followed in order to provide a better user experience. The game was evaluated by 10 experienced computer science educators of primary and secondary schools. The positive results of this pilot evaluation show that BlocklyScript is expected to help students understand the basic concepts of CT. However, the game should be evaluated by more teachers and students in order to provide future researchers with safe results.
The Bebras challenge offers pupils and teachers an engaging opportunity to discover informatics, by solving small tasks that aim at promoting computational thinking. Explanations and comments that reveal the computing concepts underlying the tasks are published after the contest, and teachers are encouraged to use this material in their school practice. In this paper we present an exploratory study aimed at investigating how teachers can make use of Bebras material; in particular our interest is understanding whether teachers are able to identify, comprehend, and apply the computing concepts implied by Bebras tasks, and how they can integrate them into their teaching practice. We qualitatively analyzed teaching projects developed by Italian teachers during a workshop on computing education and based on Bebras tasks; the analysis shows that teachers are in general able to build upon the tasks soundly, but it also raises some critical issues.
The primary purpose of this study is to investigate CT skills development process in learning environments. It is also aimed to determine the conceptual understanding and measurement approaches in the studies. To achieve these aims, a systematic research review methodology was implemented as the research design. Empirical studies on computational thinking indexed in the Web of Science and ERIC databases were selected without constraint on the publication dates. The studies found were examined and a pre-analysis was conducted by the researchers. Following the pre-analysis, 29 articles were selected to be included in the study. Content analysis was applied in order to determine and evaluate the common codes and themes related to the findings. In conclusion, instead of relying on attractiveness, functionality, market share of educational tools (robotic sets, software packets etc.), availability of qualified learning activities focused on problem solving is the main point practitioners should consider.