Teaching kids Computational Thinking is much easier with tangible objects

‘A Human-Centred Tangible approach to learning Computational Thinking’ by Tommaso Turchi and Alessio Malizia (Human Centred Design Institute, Brunel University London)
EUDL‘s Most Downloaded Paper for the month of August 2016, appears in Issue #9 of EAI Endorsed Transactions on Ambient Systems

Some argue – and they may be very right – that the amount of technology around us, and our understanding of that technology are hugely disproportionate. Computer-like devices are completely ubiquitous and most of us carry at least one with us at all times. However – and this may be credited to very skilled UI designers who have all but removed barriers to entry – as a global user and consumer base, we are losing a grasp on what makes our smartphones and computers tick. With that, we are not only potentially opening ourselves to abuse, but we are starting to lose cognitive skills that created those computers in the first place.

Authors of this paper go so far as to dismiss Computational Thinking as a skill, but instead argue that it is an essential component of literacy in the 21. century. And by Computational Thinking, they do not strictly mean programming skills. Instead, they define it as a range of mental tools reflecting the fundamental principles and concepts of Computer Science, including abstracting and decomposing a problem, recognizing similar ones and being able to generalize their solutions. To reach this new level of literacy, Turchi & Malizia are adamant about teaching these skills derived from Computer Science right from kindergarten, focusing on the K-12 age group.

But having a young child sit down at a computer and start tapping away lines of code simply isn’t a thing that happens. A new set of teaching methods needs to be utilized, one that embraces the principles of Computational Thinking. This is where Visual Programming Environments usually come into play, but a crucial pedagogical step has been skipped by the time childs sits in front of the screen. Unplugged, off-screen activities are used to inspire students and enhance subject knowledge, and can be implemented without the use of computers, making abstract concepts both tangible and visible and improving upon their problem solving skills.

To see how the proposed Tangible Programmable Augmented Surface corresponds to a child’s unique learning reaction to a tangible object, while teaching the much revered Computational Thinking, we recommend getting the full paper for free from EUDL.