pubils building a robot

Robots and collaboration are keys to teaching in programming in schools in the future

How can teaching be designed so that pupils in primary school become good at computational thinking? Using robots and challenging the pupils are two of the answers in a study that won the best paper award at an international conference recently. Collaboration between researchers and teachers in the design of the teaching is a third answer.

Computational thinking means that a problem and its possible solutions can be expressed in a way that a computer can also perform. In our increasingly digital society, such knowledge is becoming increasingly important. This is underlined by the fact that curricula have been changed to make the school's mission to strengthen pupils' digital competence more evident. But how do you accomplish that in the best way?

"Our study was devised from three basic ideas. Firstly co-design; that researchers and teachers plan teaching together. Secondly, that the teaching is based on challenges. Finally, the learning theory called constructionism, about children's natural abilities to explore, build and create their own knowledge."

This is what Rafael Zerega, doctoral student in computer and information science at Linnaeus University since October 2020 and one of the researchers behind the study, says. Rafael is a doctoral student in Upgrade, a national graduate school on digitization in teacher education funded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet).

Three workshops in programming

The researchers' ideas were tested in the form of three workshops for pupils of 13–14 years of age at a school in the county of Kronoberg. During the lessons, the pupils were to build and program different types of robots. The researchers collected data on how the pupils worked and then analyzed these.

"Our results show that the students used several of the main methods in computational thinking, such as pattern recognition, logical and algorithmic thinking, collaboration, testing and troubleshooting. Therefore, we believe that working with robots is a good choice for developing computational thinking and skills in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics", says Rafael Zerega.

Designed the lessons together

The workshops were designed to test the importance of co-design and challenge-based learning. Researchers and teachers at the school designed the lessons together. The workshops contained a variety of challenges and had an increasing level of complexity.

"Based on the results, we believe that co-design of learning activities, both pedagogical and technical, between teachers and researchers is an effective method. It uses the knowledge and experience from both parties to create educational activities with an evident added value", says Rafael Zerega.

The workshops are one of several activities using robotics and programming in schools within the framework of a collaboration that has been going on since 2019, between Linnaeus University and the company Engino.

Best paper award

The study A co-design approach for developing computational thinking in connection with STEM-related curriculum in Swedish schools was carried out by Rafael Zerega together with doctoral student Ali Hamidi, student Sepideh Tavajoh and professor Marcelo Milrad at Linnaeus University.

"The article got the best paper award at the international conference CTE-STEM in June. Having received such an award for my first conference contribution feels incredibly honoring", says Rafael Zerega.