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Integration of problem-based learning in elementary computer science education: effects on computational thinking and attitudes

Abstract

This study investigated how a computer science (CS) problem-based curriculum impacted elementary students’ CS learning and attitudes. Four sixth-grade teachers and 200 of their students participated in the study. Researchers developed a CS curriculum in collaboration with the teachers, which consisted of two main units: (1) an introduction to block-based coding and (2) a problem-based learning (PBL) applied coding project. Overall, students significantly improved their knowledge of CT concepts after the introductory block-based coding lessons and retained that knowledge after completing the PBL activities approximately three months later. Results suggest that Event and Parallelism were challenging concepts for most of the students, whereas Loop and Sequence were easily grasped by most of the students. Further analysis based on prior knowledge levels revealed that the high-prior knowledge (HK) group outperformed the low-prior knowledge (LK) group on every measure. However, LK narrowed the gap of CT concepts after the introductory block-based coding lessons. Students also communicated relatively positive attitudes towards CS at the conclusion of the PBL unit. These results provide support for further exploring the integration of inquiry-oriented instructional strategies such as PBL to support CS instruction.

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Acknowledgements

This material is based upon work supported by the Google Computer Science Education Research Grant. Thanks to the research team members for their contributions to this work, and to the teachers and students who participated in this study.

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Correspondence to Kyungbin Kwon.

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Appendix 1: Student Attitude Survey

Appendix 1: Student Attitude Survey

Self-efficacy toward programming

  1. 1.

    I can write a program that gives me the results I want.

  2. 2.

    I am good at programming.

  3. 3.

    I can find errors in my program and fix them.

  4. 4.

    I can read a program written by others.

Attitude toward CS

  1. 5.

    I think programming is important to know.

  2. 6.

    I think programming is frustrating.

  3. 7.

    I think programming is boring.

  4. 8.

    I think programming could help solve problems in my everyday life.

  5. 9.

    I want to continue to learn programming in the future.

  6. 10.

    I enjoy writing programs.

Confidence in CT skills

  1. 11.

    I can break down a problem so I can find a solution.

  2. 12.

    I can find a pattern in a series of events or numbers.

  3. 13.

    I am good at creating plans to solve complex problems.

  4. 14.

    I can create a step-by-step solution to a problem.

  5. 15.

    I can apply a plan to solve a problem.

  6. 16.

    I can find general rules from a problem I solved that I can use for other problems.

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Kwon, K., Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A.T., Brush, T.A. et al. Integration of problem-based learning in elementary computer science education: effects on computational thinking and attitudes. Education Tech Research Dev 69, 2761–2787 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-021-10034-3

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Keywords

  • Computer science education
  • Computational thinking
  • Problem-based learning
  • Elementary CS education
  • Block-based programming