"How does this work?" Children’s conceptions of computer science and programming

The project examines children’s conceptions of computer science in general and their misconceptions of programming in particular.

  • Project description

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    In an increasingly digitalised world, it is important that people understand how computer systems work. This understanding is essential for informed action and decision-making in society, which is why, in recent years, many countries have added the learning of computer skills to the curriculum of primary schools. Computer science, and programming in particular, is a new subject both for students and most teachers. In this project, which we are performing in collaboration with the ETH Zurich, the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science and the Project School Goldau, we aim to systematically record what children imagine computer science to be and what misconceptions they have about programming. This knowledge should help improve future teaching of computer science in primary schools.

  • Background

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    Misconceptions about programming, such as the mode of operation of variables, have been a topic of computer science didactics for the past 40 years. But so far, studies have mainly focused on adult computer science students. With the current efforts in many countries to teach computer science from an early age on, the preconditions for learners are changing on two levels: on the one hand, the subject is not optional, and on the other hand, the didactics need to be of a different type due to the age of the students.

  • Aim

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    In our first sub-project, we will compile a general overview of primary school pupils’ conceptions of computer science. In the second subproject, we will examine concrete misconceptions related to programming in different environments. To this end, we will develop two survey tools: one for general computer science concepts and one for specific programming concepts and the associated misconceptions. Workshops will be organised to share the findings with teachers.

  • Relevance

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    It is known from other subjects that awareness of the students’ concepts and misconceptions leads to better teaching. The insights gained from this project should contribute to the future design of computer science teaching programmes in Switzerland and abroad, both in terms of the formulation of curricula and the design of teaching materials. They will also serve to support teachers in diagnosing and promoting student competencies.

  • Original title

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    Towards better understanding of computer-science concept knowledge and computer-science misconceptions in children