ERG SES H 06, ICT and Education
This study aimed at delineating the state of the art of the implementation of Computational Thinking (CT: Wing, 2006) and Digital Literacy at Primary School in Europe. Then, it proposed a method, conceived by a phenomenological observation, in which pupils had the possibility to implement Computational Thinking combined with second/foreign language in a transversal way, while improving the key competence "learn to learn". In the third part, we tried to identify challenges that teachers still have to consider in their job while dealing with CT.
We need to clarify two key concepts, relevant for this study. The first is Computational Thinking, which is defined through a set of cognitive skills such as problem solving, abstraction, reformulating problems, restructuring processes, implementing solutions and analyzing data. CT “entails solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts, fundamental to computer science” (Wing, 2006). CECE (2017) stated that schools should offer Informatics classes, in which the aim is to the achievement of competencies and knowledge “about computational structures, processes, artefacts and systems” (The Committee on European Computing, 2017). The second one is Digital Literacy, which is a basic user skill that involves the use of word processor, spreadsheets and web browsers (CECE, 2017).
The systematic adoption of strategies for these two skills is not yet successful, for the following reasons. In July 2017, Informatics Europe published a report that underlined how Informatics is taught at school. Findings underlined how important it is for pupils to get in touch with this subject already at primary school, although it is not yet regarded as a scientific subject. Another finding showed many differences between the implementation of the subject for each country and that students from several countries could still graduate without any contact with the discipline. Recently, scholars as well as European reports depicted a complex situation while describing each level of school, which did not offer Computer Science classes. The main problems in such schools consisted of a lack of trained teachers, missing workstations, traditional didactical approaches, and poor awareness of families (Missiroli, Russo, & Ciancarini, 2016; EC/EACEA/Eurydice, 2011).
Digital Literacy was better implemented this way, while some characteristics (e.g. teacher training as well as Informatics curricula) are often not complete and exhaustive. It may seem that Generation Z, also called Post Millennials could not need such an education, given that they belong to the first generation who has been exposed to an unprecedented amount of technology from the birth, because they were born between 1995 and 2009. However, it is still to be shown whether this is a fact or another myth.
In the light of these findings, the first research question was aimed at determining whether and how it was possible to introduce CT in a transversal way, systematically, starting from primary school. The second part of this study tried to determine the relationships between Post Millennial pupils and CT skills and what cognitive processes are involved. The third question started from a case study presented at "Didamatica" (Moschella, 2017), with 17 pupils from a South Tyrolean school, as an illustrative example. It concerned which strategies could be used to motivate children to be creative and active computer users, rather than passive users (of reiterative apps, social media, and games). In order to evaluate these questions, it was necessary to start with the practice in the last school year, to observe and reflect on the critical features.
In order to answer the first research question and to find accepted and proved best practices, a literature review was conducted. In 1990, Papert led a study in a primary school in Boston. In order to learn fractions, pupils had to use Logo, implementing two different skills (arithmetical and computational) simultaneously. Other practices on that topic were categorized, using specific databases such as ACM Digital Library, ISI Thompson, and IEEE Explorer. An ecological study will be used to investigate the second research question, being part of a doctoral dissertation in which cognitive processes of learning and adapting processes will be studied focusing on Post Millennial students. For the third research question, action research method (Noffke & Somekh, 2009) will be used to obtain information from the participants of the case study. Through interviews and observations during the classes, data will be gathered on the level of empowerment, self-esteem, communication skills (using mother tongue and foreign language) and logic skills. This experience will be led in some primary schools of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano, during second language classes, under the supervision of the Education Authority. These will be based on a previous language project, called “Mehrpsrachencurriculum Südtirol” (Schwienbacher, Patscheider, & Quartapelle, 2016). The project will implement two parts: during the first semester, pupils read and play roles of tales, dealing with linguistic features and meanings and comparing German and Italian; during the second semester, pupils will use the software Scratch, in order to transform their favorite tale into a digital storytelling. A sample of stories created during a previous pilot project, is available at this link: https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/4160173/. From this pilot project, it emerged that pupils showed enthusiasm and much more motivation during the activities. They asserted that it was easy to learn both new words and the block-based grammar of Scratch. None declared that it was boring or too difficult. These observations derived from this qualitative approach let us to draw new proposals for interventions and prospective, which will be described in the findings of this proposal.
It is expected that the interdisciplinary way to teach CT (not just related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, but also to Languages, Art and Music) could improve the learning processes according to the Constructivism model (Alesandrini, K. & Larson, L. 2002). If this result would be obtained, schools will have to re-think and adapt curricula, in which Informatics plays a role and re-think the relationships between the subjects. Recently, the Italian Inter-University Consortium Informatics published a proposal for a transversal Informatics curriculum. This is likely to rise interest from other countries, but it would require further activities and investigation. The second research question is exploratory. A metacognitive approach would promote a better comprehension of the world for students, being citizens and workers. Beside the disciplines, teachers have to promote an attitude to innovation and creativity, to teach the resilience, which computers will not may show, and openness to several codes, languages, paradigms, beyond the disciplines. The answer to the third question considers the increasing influence of media on cognitive processes of learners. Given the potential of software like Scratch, we could implement paths in which school and family could collaborate to increase awareness and improve the learning process of their pupils. Teacher can find a didactic mediation for replacing the uncritical use of the computer, which becomes an instrument for learn and reflect on learning. In conclusion, it could be fruitful to extend the debate on these themes throughout the European academic as well as the educational context. We could observe how often the critical points of a research field may not only concern a country, and whether it could awake common interest beyond national policies and cultures.
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