Friday, October 03, 2008

Which Programming Language Makes it Easier for Students to Learn to Program?

In an interesting presentation at ACEC2008, Jason Zagami presents the results of a study, Which Programming Language Makes it Easier for Students to Learn to Program?

Jason tests text only languages, PHP and VB, mixed text/graphics languages Game Maker and Alice and a graphics only language Robolab (Labview) .

The languages were tested in an Australian girls' secondary school. The difficulty reaching levels of competency in programming language structures such as simple sequencing and nested loops was compared.

"programming languages that rely predominantly on visual representations were shown to be more effective in supporting student understanding of introductory programming concepts than programming languages relying predominately on text"

If I understood his presentation, he further indicated that mixed text/graphics languages were better for simple concepts like sequencing but text only or graphics only was better for more difficult concepts like nested loops.

I look forward to reading the wider study when it is published: Zagami, J. (2008). Seeing is understanding: The effect of visualisation in understanding programming concepts. (Doctoral dissertation, Queensland University of Technology, 2008). Dissertation.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Bill Kerr said...

How were "levels of competency" measured in this study?

(paper based test, computer based competency test, collaboration allowed or not allowed - project based or individual test based etc.)

Was the affective domain evaluated? (students found this interesting, boring, useful, not useful etc)

Friday, October 03, 2008 4:41:00 PM  
Blogger Daniel Livingstone said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Saturday, October 04, 2008 7:22:00 AM  
Blogger Daniel Livingstone said...

(wanted to amend my comment)

I've finally got round (via my colleague John Sutherland) to playing with Scratch - and to see students trying it out for the first time. (I guess Scratch would fit the middle category - but very easy to use, and minimal text entry required.)

It certainly looks like an environment where students (if they take time to reflect at least) can learn a lot about the structure of programs but in a much more supportive (and playful) environment than a text only IDE.

Students will be learning introductory C++ in another class over the same time they get to create games in Scratch - hopefully the two classes will work together to give students a better understanding and feel for programming. But this would not be at all easy to measure.

Saturday, October 04, 2008 7:24:00 AM  
Blogger Tony Forster said...

Bill,
"student responses were measured by speak aloud peer discussion, and stimulated recall using screen and video recordings"
so I think students' peers were evaluating against a rubric using a screen and classroom video recording.

I think collaboration was the norm. i think it may have been more set task than project based. I doubt that the affective was evaluated on its own, though it obviously affects the results

Saturday, October 04, 2008 6:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

I think * normal * school students have no interest in programming languages; even if some of them were, they wouldn't be up to it. Well, at least for * normal * students in Australia because I know the quality of * normal * students down under.

Stanley Kosasih
B.Eng Swinburne 2007 Grad.Dip.Ed (in progress) Monash 2008

P.S. My methods of teaching are mathematics and computing.

Monday, October 06, 2008 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger Tony Forster said...

Hi Stanley
Australian students certainly show great interest in visual programming languages such as Game Maker, Etoys, Scratch and Alice though I agree that the "normal" student would have less interest in text only languages such as php and C++.

Whether they are typical of the rest of the world or the developed world, I am not sure. They certainly rank well in PISA tests, 8th in science, 7th in reading, 13th in maths http://pisa2000.acer.edu.au/

It will be interesting to see the results of providing the OLPC ($100 laptop) to the developing world with its heavy emphasis on programming tools (Etoys, Scratch, TurtleArt, Pippy)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008 9:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony,

About the PISA tests, the article said "In Australia, samples of students were drawn from all states and territories and included government, Catholic and independent schools".

I bet the participating schools (since not all schools were participating; I don't remember the school I was studying at here in Melbourne participated on PISA statistics), only selected the very top students to participate on the tests.

The very top students at Australian schools are distinguishable to average *normal* students at Australian schools and hence the results of the test that placed Australia on the 14th position for mathematics and 11th for science do not reflect skills, abilities, and intelligence of the real average *normal* Australian students.

I just couldn't comprehend why do schools teach programming to school students. The students at majority are just not up to it. Students being teenagers are not thinking the way we, adults, are thinking. Their way of thinking is much less limited than ours and they probably don't even care about what they study at schools except when they are in yr 12 because the high school final results only count those marks they obtain in Yr 12.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008 2:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above post is from me, by the way.

Stanley Kosasih.

Sorry, forgot to write down my name at the end of it in case you're wondering who the anonymous is.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008 2:02:00 PM  
Blogger Tony Forster said...

Stanley
"I bet the participating schools ... only selected the very top students to participate on the tests."

I would have to pay money to get their methodology but I found this:
"The selection of schools and students is kept as inclusive as possible, so that the sample of students comes from a broad range of backgrounds and abilities"
http://tinyurl.com/45sqsu

Tuesday, October 07, 2008 6:59:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Kerr said...

Stanley:
"I just couldn't comprehend why do schools teach programming to school students. The students at majority are just not up to it. Students being teenagers are not thinking the way we, adults, are thinking. Their way of thinking is much less limited than ours and they probably don't even care about what they study at schools except when they are in yr 12 because the high school final results only count those marks they obtain in Yr 12."

hi stanley,
The above elaborates a little on your earlier remark, which could easily have been interpreted as world weary cynicism from someone who has been battling in the classroom for too long (and you haven't even started teaching yet?)

Well, shouldn't good teachers aspire to a little more than just "going with the flow"? I mean go with the flow has its place, for sure, but can't we go beyond that sometimes?

"Teenagers are not adults". True. But some argue that programming can be hard fun and good for learning. Logo programming was popular in schools for a while and these days, as Tony points out, the visual programming makes it even more accessible.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008 2:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,

You might be right but I do still think that they're not up to programming. I have taught students from year 7 to year 12 at a number of secondary schools as a part of the Dip.Ed program at Monash and in general, students were not briliant and were not motivated. I know that students 30 years ago were more motivated but students these days are hopeless. Assignments had to be simplified; tests had to be easy. Besides, teachers don't want to fail them because if they do: 1.) Parents will complain 2.) Meeting with the Principal to discuss whether the teacher is able to teach or not 3.) in General, if students fail high school subjects, it is the teachers' fault unlike what happens at uni.

S

Monday, October 13, 2008 4:55:00 PM  

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