Research insights: collaborative programming and worked examples

Our researchers at Raspberry Pi work to help us understand how people are learning computing and digital making. They talk to children, volunteers, and educators about their experiences, while also drawing on the research of academics and other organisations. Here we summarise the latest piece of research they worked on with Code Clubs, and we hear from Oliver Quinlan, our Senior Research Manager.

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The research

In the Autumn term of 2017, the Raspberry Pi researchers worked with six school-based Code Clubs in England to try out a different approach to teaching programming. They wanted to observe the impact of ‘worked examples’: completed projects for the learners to explore, manipulate, and answer questions about. Their specific question was whether this type of teaching material encouraged collaboration between learners.

The six participating schools were split into two groups — one group was given six step-by-step projects structured very similarly to the standard Code Club projects, and the other group was given versions of the projects as worked examples. Both project sets covered the same concept: creating your own Scratch blocks (the Scratch version of defining your own procedures). The club members worked through these projects over several weeks, and in the final week, all the children from both groups got the same challenge to test their newly-learned understanding. Two of our researchers visited the clubs for this final session to observe the children and to interview the club leaders.

The researchers had two main aims:

  1. Find out whether worked examples and discussion prompts encourage more collaborative digital making.
  2. Explore whether worked examples and collaborative problem solving have an impact on children’s learning of a new programming topic.

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Findings

Collaborative problem solving

The researchers found that collaboration among the Code Clubbers was the same in the two groups — worked examples had no influence on how the learners worked together. In addition, interviewing the club leaders and observing the young coders gave our researchers insight into the obstacles to successful peer collaboration in Code Club.

“Making collaborative problem solving successful depends on the right combination of many aspects, such as educator support, task design, and group features. Achieving this combination is often challenging in practice, as we found from working with the schools in this project.”

– Oliver Quinlan, Senior Research Manager at Raspberry Pi

Interestingly, one obstacle that they observed was that each club they visited had enough equipment to provide each child with a computer. This led the researchers to conclude that collaboration may be promoted by letting the children work in pairs using one computer. Oliver and his team also thought that Code Club leaders may need more support and information in order to facilitate collaborative problem solving among their learners.

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Learning programming concepts

The team observed that using worked examples to teach programming concepts in Code Club had both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, ‘reverse engineering’ a completed project means learners can dive right in to learning more complex programming concepts and are not tempted to spend time choosing backgrounds and sprites. It also allows them to access programming concepts they haven’t seen before.

“I think it was quite good for pupils to have projects that they were mending rather than starting from scratch. When you do that, sometimes you don’t get beyond choosing the background and putting the sounds in. So it’s good to start with having it all there, doing a bit of coding and then I’d say, OK, you can change the background. Otherwise they just get caught up in kind of drawing.”

– Code Club leader

On the other hand, the step-by-step approach to learning gives children the experience of building their own program from the bottom up. And since Code Club’s aim is to motivate and empower children to get really creative with technology to explore their own interests, being able to open a blank Scratch file and build a complete, unique project is crucial.

“[A] mix of worked examples and then doing your own problems might work better. The children get to see the possibilities this way, but I’m not sure they internalise the learning in the same way without building something themselves. I would like more of an alternating structure.”

– Code Club leader

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Impact for Code Club

Although this research did not show a true difference between the two types of projects in terms of collaborative problem solving, there are several things Code Club leaders can take away from it if they would like to encourage more collaboration in their clubs:

“Lots of children in clubs help each other when they are stuck, but there are other ways of collaborating too. Sometimes pairing children up with just one computer can encourage them to work together to think through their ideas. Showing them finished examples of programs can also really help them learn. It’s definitely not ‘cheating’ to have a look at someone’s finished project first — it can really help their understanding.”

– Oliver Quinlan, Senior Research Manager at Raspberry Pi

Share your stories with us!

Have you successfully encouraged collaboration between the children in your Code Club? Or have you tried out an alternative method of teaching that you would like to tell about?

Tweet us your ideas, or send us a message on Facebook. We love hearing about what the community is up to!

Code Club in France: bonjour le monde!

Last month Kat Leadbetter, our International Programme Coordinator, travelled to France to visit a Code Club in Romilly-sur-Seine.

J’arrive en France

It was a beautiful, sunny day when I stepped off the train in Romilly-sur-Seine, a small town about an hour outside Paris. Waiting for me was Fabien Schuft, our Code Club local partner for France.

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Kat and Fabien found time for a quick selfie!

Over the past years, Fabien has been busy growing the number of Code Clubs in France and supporting the French community of teachers and volunteers. At the end of 2016, there were 26 French Code Clubs; now, there are 150 from the north to the south, reaching about 2250 children a week! Plus, right now we offer 43 translated Code Club projects for kids to use in their clubs.

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Poster for a Code Club in France

Our destination for the day was the Code Club at Collège Paul Langevin, one of the first clubs to start in France, more than 3 years ago! Running in the newly renovated school building over lunchtime, the club hosts a mix of children aged 11 to 13 — some coding veterans and others very recent beginners.

Keeping things flexible

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Coding in progress

Club leader Isabelle told me that she believes it is very important to differentiate club time from the normal school day: “Kids are here for fun,” she told me. “We’re in school, but it’s not a lesson; we practise individual pedagogy, and the children can follow their own paths. It’s very flexible!”

In the session, this approach showed itself in how club members practised coding: one pupil was putting a Space Invaders twist on his Clone wars project, while another was creating a game featuring a hilariously abstract puppy-monster; some children chose to work in pairs on their projects, and others chose to code alone.

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Clone Wars with a Space Invaders twist

Walking around the room, what struck me the most was the number of children who said what they loved most about their Code Club was ‘créer’ — to create. They really valued being allowed the flexibility to make both the club and the projects their own, and having a space to use their creativity to make something completely new.

Don’t be afraid!

Isabelle believes that fear of computers should not stop from you getting involved with Code Club: “People who are leading clubs don’t have to be computer scientists, or coders, or experts. They should keep trying things: never stop learning by doing!” Very wise words.

Get involved

You can find out more about Code Club in France at www.codeclub.fr, and if you can help us translate more projects into French, find out about volunteering as a translator for us at www.raspberrypi.org/translate.

Code Club in the USA: 800 clubs and growing!

Since joining the Code Club team in February 2018, US Club Manager Christina has worked to support the growing community of clubs across the United States. Here she shares an exciting update to Code Club USA, and news of what’s to come!

800 clubs and growing!

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Spreading the word about Code Club.

From Honolulu to Houston and Anchorage to Atlanta, there are now 800 Code Clubs across the United States. And we’re continuing to grow: each day, educators across the country are starting new clubs in their communities, creating fun and inclusive spaces for kids to explore programming. This is amazing, and as the US Club Manager, I love every minute of getting to meet our existing clubs and their volunteers, and helping new clubs get started.

When visiting clubs, I always find it interesting to see the differences that make each club unique. In one club, kids will use Chromebooks to code animations in Scratch; in another, children use Raspberry Pis connected to projectors and work on designing web pages with HTML. Some clubs meet during lunchtime, while others meet after school, or in their local library — each club has its own individual flavour!

And despite these differences, all clubs have the same purpose: they are a space for kids to try coding. Clubs are all about the kids, and great Code Club leaders find what works best for their group of children.

Spreading the word across the USA

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Running training at the YMCA.

One of my favourite parts of my job is travelling across the country to spread the word about why people should get involved with Code Club. Just one example was the day I joined the team at YMCA Metropolitan Los Angeles to run a Code Club training workshop. During the session, we discussed how to facilitate a club and worked on my favourite project together: Lost in space. For some participants it was the first time they created code, but that didn’t stop them from jumping right in!

You might think being a coding beginner would make running Code Club difficult, but I think it can be a real advantage. When the adult in the room doesn’t always have the answers, the kids are pushed to take more ownership of their learning experience, which allows them to develop their own problem-solving skills. It’s also important to remember that not always knowing the answer shows that you’re just human and can really endear you to the students in your club!

Get involved

If you’re interested in joining the Code Club community in the US, then head to our website to register your club and download resources to help you get started.

Follow @CodeClub_USA on Twitter to see what we’re up to, or follow me directly at @Foustberrypi.