Teaching Programming in Secondary Education Through Embodied Computing Platforms: Robotics and Wearables

Abstract. Pedagogy has emphasized that physical representations and tangible interactive objects benefit learning especially for young students. There are many tangible hardware platforms for introducing computer programming to children, but there is limited comparative evaluation of them in the context of a formal classroom. In this work, we explore the benefits of learning to code for tangible computers, such as robots and wearable computers, in comparison to programming for the desktop computer. For this purpose, 36 students participated in a within-groups study that involved three types of target computer platform tangibility. 1) desktop, 2) wearable, and 3) robotic. We employed similar blocks-based visual programming environments, and we measured emotional engagement, attitudes, and computer programming performance. We found that students were more engaged by and had a higher intention of learning programming with the robotic rather than the desktop computer. Furthermore, tangible computing platforms, either robot or wearable, did not affect the students’ performance in learning basic computational concepts (e.g., sequence, repeat, and decision). Our findings suggest that computer programming should be introduced through multiple target platforms (e.g., robots, smartphones, wearables) to engage children.

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