06 SES 13 A, Software, Play & Data
Algorithmic thinking is defined as the ability to think in terms of clear, simple, and small sequences and repetitive rules to solve a problem or understand a situation (Csizmadia & et al, 2015). It can be connected to deep procedural knowledge, which involves understanding procedures, associated with comprehension, flexibility, and critical judgment (Lockwood et al., 2016). In practice, an algorithm results in a series of steps ordered in a specific sequence to achieve a goal. In early childhood education, a linear algorithm can enhance sequencing tasks. Retelling a story in a logical way, order objects in a logical pattern, organize tasks of daily routines, such as wash their hands, or arrange their school bag or lunch box to go to school, are tasks that can involve children in algorithmic thinking (Bers, 2020). Besides its own relevance, working with algorithmic thinking with pre-school children can contribute to their development of Computational Thinking. Wing (2016) described Computational Thinking as “taking an approach to solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science”. Computational Thinking applies to a large spectrum of disciplines and areas and involves the idea of solving problems, conceptualizing, and thinking at multiple levels of abstraction. Computational Thinking is more than coding since it is a thought process. Computational Thinking, coding, and educational robotics are entering European schools as tools for thought, and teachers and curriculum developers are being challenged to foster algorithmic thinking skills starting from the preschool period (Strnad, 2018). Answering that challenge, ALGOLITTLE is an Erasmus Plus funded project that aims to integrate algorithmic thinking skills into pre-school education, with the aim of raising future digital citizens from an early age. Project partners are İzmir Demokrasi University, Scuola di Robotica, University of Maribor, University of Rijeka, Educloud Eğitim Organizasyon Teknoloji Ticaret Ltd. Şti, and Instituto Politecnico de Viseu.
The paper presents the analysis of the Portuguese Curricular Guidelines for Early Childhood Education (ECE) in terms of opportunities for articulating algorithmic thinking with children’s play in ECE settings, in a relevant and meaningful way.
Early childhood education (ECE) in Portugal focuses on the ages of 3 to 6 and is called “preschool education”. Before the age of three, there is mainly socio-educational provision, whereas preschool education is the first stage of the education system. The Ministry of Education is responsible for ensuring the pedagogical quality of teaching in all preschool education institutions (public and private). Since 1997, there are Curricular Guidelines for Preschool Education but not a program. The Guidelines present three content areas that serve as references for curriculum planning and evaluation (Ministério da Educação, 2016). Although there are different areas, the emphasis is on articulation and connections between them. The areas “Personal and Social Development”, “Knowledge of the World” and “Expression and Communication”, including Mathematics, Physical Education, Artistic Education, and Oral and Written Language. The teachers’ intervention or pedagogy is enacted through the organization of the learning environment and the planning of activities. The learning environment should foster rich play which is highly valued. When organizing the learning environment and planning educational activities, the teacher should create opportunities for learning in all content areas, mostly based on the child’s involvement with the environment and other children.
A content analysis of the text of the Curricular Guidelines for Early Childhood Education was developed by the team. The text was divided into two parts: the content areas presentation which includes suggestions in terms of educational aims and pedagogy for each area, and an overall pedagogical orientation that highlights cross-curricular processes such as evaluation, organization of the learning environment, and relationship with the families. According to the specialty of each team member, the content areas were assigned to be read and analyzed. A common definition of algorithmic thinking was discussed and the components to be highlighted were listed. After each analysis, the team read all the texts and discussed them. A third step was to find connections between the different areas. Finally, the pedagogical orientation was analyzed by the team members, focusing on the idea of play-based pedagogy. The final analysis will be discussed with the international partners of the Algolittle project.
Early childhood education is a context that provides children with opportunities to solve problems of different types and complexity, based on their interests and motivations. Children benefit from being encouraged to define goals, plan tasks, rehearsing and comparing different resolution strategies, and developing critical thinking about their achievements. Educators can scaffold children's discoveries and ideas by intentionally leading them to develop problem-solving abilities. Problem-solving calls for skills such as analytical ability, creative thinking, initiative, logical reasoning, and persistence. It is important that, from an early age, children can experience meaningful experiences like these. In particular, skills involved in problem-solving help the development of algorithmic thinking, as a systematic way to face challenges of different nature. In the Portuguese Curricular Guidelines, all of the content areas suggest topics (content knowledge) and experiences (pedagogical knowledge) that are easily aligned with the components of algorithmic thinking considered relevant for ECE. It was also concluded that play, valued in the text of the Guidelines, is equally prevalent in the pedagogical suggestions for each content area. This means that for the Algolittle project's next step, the development of didactical proposals, there is the need to infuse play-based suggestions to the ideas presented by the Guidelines which are more adult-oriented.
Bers, M.U. (2020). Coding as a Playground Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom. Second Edition. Routledge. Csizmadia, A., Curzon, P., Dorling M., Humphreys, S., Ng, T., Selby, C., & Woollard, J. (2015). Computational thinking: A guide for teachers. (Available at:http://community.Computingatschool.org.uk/resources/2324). Unpublished report. Lockwood, E., Asay, A., DeJarnette, A. F., & Thomas, M. (2016). Algorithmic thinking: An initial characterization of computational thinking in mathematics. 38th Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, 1588–1595. Ministério da Educação. (2016). Orientações curriculares para a educação pré-escolar [Curricular Guidelines for Early Childhood Education]. Lisbon: Ministério da Educação. Strnad, B. (2018). Introduction to the World of Algorithmic Thinking. Journal of Electrical Engineering, 6, 57-60. Wing, J.M., 2006. Computational thinking. Commun. ACM 49, 33. https://doi.org/10.1145/1118178.1118215
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