Last Saturday, we organized at ISEP an Hour of Code session opened to middle and high-schoolers. During this session, we had 38 participants work on small activities we designed to introduce fundamental concepts of Computer Science and programming, namely variables, conditional structures, and iterative structures.
Our participants used a block-based programming interface that we developed for this particular occasion. By moving blocks around the interface, they were able to design small programs that could be executed on micro:bit cards (see this post for a quick description of these cards). Our session had a specificity though: participants either programmed a tangible micro:bit card or an equivalent digital one.
This specificity originates from an observation of the state of the art on physical computing. Multiple research articles on this topic mention the interest of programming a tangible object (with an increased interest, motiviation, creativity in participants). However, we were not able to find any study comparing the effects of programming a tangible object or a simulation on programming beginners’ learning outcomes. We designed our experimental set-up to explore this question.
More details about this experimentation will soon be available. In any case, preliminary results will be presented at SIGCSE 2019 during the poster session (the abstract of the poster will be available online once it is submitted). Now that we have collected the data, we will have more to say in the next couple of months. We expect to submit the results of our analysis to ITiCSE 2019.
A first feedback we received from our participants though was that they enjoyed the exercises and the programming environment they used. This is not much of a surprise to us as the literature is full of studies showing the benefits of using visual programming languages, and in particular block-based programming languages. We will now be conducting a more in-depth analysis of our data to see if there is any difference in learning outcomes when programming beginners program a tangible object or not.