alice in summerland

learning and teaching math in alice

“Computer Science and Nursery Rhymes”: A Learning Path for the Middle School

pdf Doranna Di Vano, Claudio Mirol. The 15th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE 2011), Darmstadt, Germany, (to appear).

Set at an Italian middle school, this study familiarized students with basic visual programming languages like Logo and, eventually, instructed them to develop their own simple programs. According to the paper, in Italy, the study of informatics encompasses many disciplines, including computer science, information technology, and even information and communication technologies (ICTs). Schools tend to overemphasize the study of ICTs due to the societal importance placed on the technologies while rarely teaching the first two disciplines. The result is a widespread view among teenagers that informatics deals mostly with ICT’s in an instrumental connotation. This may be why computer science programs attract fewer bright students than other programs–the bright students are not exposed to computer science as the “rich and intellectually challenging discipline” that it is.

Much of the initial work of this project can be down without a computer yet still incorporating many educational objectives. Mathematics and science teachers would be qualified to coordinate this project from a perspective closest to a computer scientist’s. The math teachers would also find that programming teaches students variables and functions, application of rules, and the use of formal languages, while science teachers would fin students able to better identify patterns and relationships and devising models.

The suggested outline for teaching is as follows. The first year class would have students collect nursery rhymes, find hidden structures and syntactic features, construct concrete models and toy machines, and use an application called ladybug for visualization. The second year student would focus on Logo, first learning a few basic language constructs and examples, and then developing programs to automate the generation of simple nursery rhymes. In the third year, students continue to work with Logo and reconsider the ladybug application in terms of its potential and limits, in light of what they have learned from the entire programming experience.

A key success in this program was that it motivated weaker students who have been less reluctant to take risks. Rather than with the anxiety associated with many of their other classes, they saw this program as independent and even fun. According to the paper, more than 3/4 of the class found the experience valuable and would have liked to study programming even further, and more than half also thought the work was helpful to better understand mathematical concepts.

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