“Tinkering is an equity issue” | Hello World #14

In the brand-new issue of Hello World magazine, Shuchi Grover tells us about the limits of constructionism, the value of formative assessment, and why programming can be a source of both joy and angst.

How much open-ended exploration should there be in computing lessons?

This is a question at the heart of computer science education and one which Shuchi Grover is delicately diplomatic about in the preface to her new book, Computer Science in K-12: An A-to-Z Handbook on Teaching Programming. The book’s chapters are written by 40 teachers and researchers in computing pedagogy, and Grover openly acknowledges the varying views around discovery-based learning among her diverse range of international authors.

“I wonder if I want to wade there,” she laughs. “The act of creating a program is in itself an act of creation. So there is hands-on learning quite naturally in the computer science classroom, and mistakes are made quite naturally. There are some things that are so great about computer science
education. It lends itself so easily to being hands-on and to celebrating mistakes; debugging is par for the course, and that’s not the way it is in other subjects. The kids can actually develop some very nice mindsets that they can take to other classrooms.”

Shuchi Grover showing children something on a laptop screen

Grover is a software engineer by training, turned researcher in computer science education. She holds a PhD in learning sciences and technology design from Stanford University, where she remains a visiting scholar. She explains how the beginning of her research career coincided with the advent of the block-based programming language Scratch, now widely used as an introductory programming language for children.

“Almost two decades ago, I went to Harvard to study for a master’s called technology innovation and education, and it was around that time that I volunteered for robotics workshops at the MIT Media Lab and MIT Museum. Those were pretty transformative for me: I started after-school clubs and facilitated robotics and digital storytelling clubs. In the early 2000s, I was an educational technology consultant, working with teachers on integrating technology. Then Scratch came out, and I started working with teachers on integrating Scratch into languages, arts, and science, all the things that we are doing today.”

A girl with her Scratch project
Student Joyce codes in Scratch at her Code Club in Nunavut

Do her formative experiences at MIT, the birthplace of constructionist theory of student-centred, discovery-based learning, lead her to lean one way or another in the tinkering versus direct instruction debate? “The learning in informal spaces is, of course, very interest-driven. There is no measurement. Children are invited to a space to spend some time after school and do whatever they feel like. There would be kids who would be chatting away while a couple of them designed a robot, and then they would hand over the robot to some others and say, ‘OK, now you go ahead and program it,’ and there were some kids who would just like to hang about.

“When it comes to formal education, there needs to be more accountability, you want to do right by every child. You have to be more intentional. I do feel that while tinkering and constructionism was a great way to introduce interest-driven projects for informal learning, and there’s a lot to learn from there and bring to the formal learning context, I don’t think it can only be tinkering.”

“There needs to be more accountability to do right by every child.”

“Everybody knows that engagement is very important for learning — and this is something that we are learning more about: it’s not just interest, it’s also culture, communities, and backgrounds — but all of this is to say that there is a personal element to the learning process and so engagement is necessary, but it’s not a sufficient condition. You have to go beyond engagement, to also make sure that they are also engaging with the concepts. You want at some point for students to engage with the concept in a way that reveals what their misconceptions might be, and then they end up learning and understanding these things more deeply.

“You want a robust foundation — after all, our goal for teaching children anything at school is to build a foundation on which they build their college education and career and anything beyond that. If we take programming as a skill, you want them to have a good understanding of it, and so the personal connections are important, but so is the scaffolding.

“How much scaffolding needs to be done varies from context to context. Even in the same classroom, children may need different levels of scaffolding. It’s a sweet spot; within a classroom a teacher has to juggle so much. And therein lies the challenge of teaching: 30 kids at a time, and every child is different and every child is unique.

“It’s an equity issue. Some children don’t have the prior experience that sets them up to tinker constructively. After all, tinkering is meant to be purposeful exploration. And so it becomes an issue of who are you privileging with the pedagogy.”

She points out that each chapter in her book that comes from a more constructionist viewpoint clearly speaks of the need for scaffolding. And conversely, the chapters that take a more structured approach to computing education include elements of student engagement and children creating their own programs. “Frameworks such as Use-Modify-Create and PRIMM just push that open-ended creation a little farther down, making sure that the initial experiences have more guide rails.”

Approaches to assessment

Grover is a senior research scientist at Looking Glass Ventures, which in 2018 received a National Science Foundation grant to create Edfinity, a tool to enable affordable access to high-quality assessments for schools and universities.

In her book, she argues that asking students to write programs as a means of formative assessment has several pitfalls. It is time-consuming for both students and teachers, scoring is subjective, and it’s difficult to get a picture of how much understanding a student has of their code. Did they get their program to work through trial and error? Did they lift code from another student?

“Formative assessments that give quick feedback are much better. They focus on aspects of the conceptual learning that you want children to have. Multiple-choice questions on code force both the teachers and the children to experience code reading and code comprehension, which are just so important. Just giving children a snippet of code and saying: ‘What does this do? What will be the value of the variable? How many times will this be executed?’ — it goes down to the idea of code tracing and program comprehension.

“Research has also shown that anything you do in a classroom, the children take as a signal. Going back to the constructionist thing, when you foreground personal interest, there’s a different kind of environment in the classroom, where they’re able to have a voice, they have agency. That’s one of the good things about constructionism.

“Formative assessment signals to the student what it is that you’re valuing in the learning process. They don’t always understand what it is that they’re expected to learn in programming. Is the goal creating a program that runs? Or is it something else? And so when you administer these little check-ins, they bring more alignment between a teacher’s goals for the learners and the learners’ understanding of those goals. That alignment is important and it can get lost.”

Grover will present her latest research into assessment at our research seminar series next Tuesday 6 October — sign up to attend and join the discussion.

The joy and angst of programming

The title of Grover’s book, which could be thought to imply that computer science education consists solely of teaching students to program, may cause some raised eyebrows.

What about building robots or devices that interact with the world, computing topics like binary, or the societal impacts of technology? “I completely agree with the statement and the belief that computer science is not just about programming. I myself have been a proponent of this. But in this book I wanted to focus on programming for a couple of reasons. Programming is a central part of the computer science curriculum, at least here in the US, and it is also the part that teachers struggle with the most.

“I want to show where children struggle and how to help them.”

“As topics go, programming carries a lot of joy and angst. There is joy in computing, joy when you get it. But when a teacher is encountering this topic for the first time there is a lot of angst, because they themselves may not be understanding things, and they don’t know what it is that the children are not understanding. And there is this entire body of research on novice programming. There are the concepts, the practices, the pedagogies, and the issues of assessment. So I wanted to give the teachers all of that: everything we know about children and programming, the topics to be learnt, where they struggle, how to help them.”

Computer Science in K-12: An A-to-Z Handbook on Teaching Programming (reviewed in this issue of Hello World) is edited by Shuchi Grover and available now.

Hear more from Shuchi Grover, and subscribe to Hello World

We will host Grover at our research seminar series next Tuesday 17:00-18:30 BST, where she will present her work on formative assessment.

Hello World is our magazine about all things computing education. It is free to download in PDF format, or you can subscribe and we will send you each new issue straight to your home.

In issue 14 of Hello World, we have gathered some inspiring stories to help your learners connect with nature. From counting penguins in Antarctica to orienteering with a GPS twist, great things can happen when young people get creative with technology outdoors. You’ll find all this and more in the new issue!

Educators based in the UK can subscribe to receive print copies for free!

The post “Tinkering is an equity issue” | Hello World #14 appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

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Action and impact: The talks of TED@PMI, day 1

Multi-instrumentalist and singer Allison Russell performs at TED@PMI on September 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Everyone celebrates the thought leader. But thoughts alone won’t solve the world’s biggest challenges. In the face of disruptive change, TED and PMI have partnered to share the ideas behind awe-inspiring business projects, creative pursuits and innovative collaborations. Below, a recap of the six speakers who spoke at day one. (Check out the day two recap as well.)

The event: TED@PMI, a two-day virtual event showcasing project leaders who turn ideas into action and impact. Hosted by PMI President and Chief Executive Officer Sunil Prashara and TED curator Sally Kohn

Performance by: Allison Russell, a multi-instrumentalist, singer, poet, activist and writer

Special offstage moments: A TED event goes beyond the talks. For the first day of TED@PMI, pre- and post-event virtual activities included coffee and cocktails (to delight people across time zones), a chakra-balancing sound bath, a speaker panel discussion and a dance party hosted by DJ Jenk Oz.

The talks in brief:

YeYoon Kim, former kindergarten teacher

Big idea: Asking for help is a powerful and courageous thing to do.

Why? Kids do some things better than grown-ups, says YeYoon Kim. For instance: asking for help. This act of vulnerability is a gift, she says: not only do you show your trust in another person, but you also give them the opportunity to experience the joy that comes from helping. Kim found out the hard way that, even as adults, it’s important to reach out to loved ones for help. During one of the most difficult periods in her life, Kim wasn’t able to open herself up to receiving care until a friend actively stepped in to support her. Now, she recognizes the courage that lies in seeking help — and encourages the rest of us to start asking for it more often.

Quote of the talk: “Being asked for help is a privilege: a gift for you to do something for someone.”


Kathy Mendias, childbirth and lactation educator

Big idea: Crying isn’t necessarily a ringing alarm bell — it’s a way of fully experiencing your emotions, and it can bring you closer to your family, your significant other and yourself.

How? As a childbirth educator and mother of four, Kathy Mendias understands the deep emotional changes that pregnancy can spark for the pregnant person — and for those supporting the pregnant person. With those emotional peaks and valleys often come tears, which Mendias encourages to let flow freely. Tears can contain high concentrations of stress hormones and endorphins, so crying can strengthen the bond between your body and mind, she explains. Crying isn’t something to be afraid or ashamed of, she says: it’s a natural expression of your emotional landscape, a soothing physical release of joy, grief, love, anxiety or any other combination of feelings. Mendias believes that we all need to have a healthier relationship with our tears.

Quote of the talk: “Crying offers us an opportunity for physical relief, for intimacy between two individuals, and ultimately, it promotes physical and mental well-being. Crying is a natural functionality of our amazing bodies.”


“All of our children deserve protection and help. Staying silent doesn’t make this better,” says community activist Wale Elegbede. He speaks at TED@PMI on September 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Wale Elegbede, leadership strategist, community activist

Big idea: Stop seeing discrimination as “their” problem. It’s our problem — and we all have a role to play in stopping it.

Why? “I’m an American Muslim of Nigerian descent and, growing up, my parents instilled in me the importance of community and serving others,” says Wale Elegbede. In his household, caring for the entire community was a given: his mother provided meals not just for their family but to other children in the neighborhood who needed to eat as well. Elegbede still lives by this community-care approach, and he sees it as a key facet to ending discrimination. He reflects on how, after the attacks of 9/11, his family was traumatized alongside countless others — and how they faced microaggressions and Islamophobia to the point that they considered leaving their adopted homeland. But Elegbede decided to stay and try to bridge these religious and racial divides, helping bring together a diverse group of people (spanning religions, races and ages) in his community. He shows us how a mentality of caring for your community, and making their problems your problems, can make life better for everyone. 

Quote of the talk: All of our children deserve protection and help, and staying silent doesn’t make this better. So let’s make our community and world a better place by making standing up to discrimination and hate everyone’s business.”


Mounina Tounkara, IT engineer

Big idea: To end racism, we must change how we see each other.

How? Since she was a child, Mounina Tounkara’s grandmother instilled in her the African philosophy of ubuntu: a perspective of interconnectedness — which, while natural at home, was a foreign concept elsewhere. Tounkara recounts her experiences finding a whole new world of racism and discrimination while pursuing education abroad, and how the experience changed the trajectory of her life. To eradicate the cruel and unforgiving ways people treat one another based on their origins or appearance, she suggests adopting the teachings of ubuntu in three steps: learning to be empathetic; believing in our capacity for change; and rethinking justice to be restorative.

Quote of the talk: “If the lifestyle of ubuntu is practiced all over the world, humanity will be the great winner — and that means you.”


“Strength doesn’t mean facing challenges or dark feelings alone,” says Kristin Jones. She speaks at TED@PMI on September 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Kristin Jones, social media specialist

Big idea: By fostering open conversations without shame or judgement, we can better inform and protect our children from sexual violence.

How? For years, Kristin Jones lived in fear and shame over the sexual abuse she experienced in her teens; she says that the shame associated with sexual abuse can silence victims and stop them from seeking help. Now, as a mother, Jones shares key insights on how to educate children on the reality of sexual violence without shaming or blaming victims. Instead of relying on phrases like “Just say no,” or implying that it’s their responsibility not to “become a victim,” Jones says it’s vital to emphasize to children that sexual abuse, in any form, is never the victim’s fault, and that they can always ask for help. Sexual abuse is a devastating reality, and it’s terrifying for parents to imagine not being able to protect their children. By nurturing open conversations about abuse, parents can provide children with the environment, knowledge and support to reach out for help, if they ever need to.

Quote of the talk: “I make sure my children know that strength doesn’t mean facing challenges or dark feelings alone. In fact, there’s strength in numbers and strength in asking for help … I want my kids to know that courageous, strong people ask for help.”


Danielle Torley, who unexpectedly became a fire dancer, demonstrates her mastery of the flames. She speaks at TED@PMI on September 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Danielle Torley, fire performer and artist

Big idea: There is hope for healing after experiencing grief, trauma or hardship.

How: After losing her mother in a house fire when she was just six years old, Danielle Torley saw two paths before her: a life full of fear, or one that promised recovery and new potential. While backpacking through Central America years after that harrowing night, a fellow traveler introduced her to the art of fire dancing, and she was instantly captivated. Despite her past trauma with fire, she was inexplicably drawn to this unique art form that allowed her to flow with the flames. Making a conscious decision to choose the path of healing, she began to practice her own form of exposure therapy — learning to master the flames and transforming her grief into beauty.

Quote of the talk: “When I learned to dance with fire, I learned to reconcile the traumatic part of my life with the totality of my life as it was still unfolding. Fire became more than just trauma, but beauty and art as well.”

from TED Blog https://ift.tt/33arhHV

Action and impact: The talks of TED@PMI, day 2

Billy Samuel Mwape talks about an innovative way he uses project management to support his son’s special needs. He speaks at TED@PMI on September 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

At day two of TED@PMI, six speakers shared ideas about creating change, shifting perspectives and connecting across diverse communities. (Check out the day one recap as well.)

The event: TED@PMI, a two-day virtual event showcasing project leaders who turn ideas into action and impact. Hosted by PMI President and Chief Executive Officer Sunil Prashara and TED curator Sally Kohn

Performance by: ARKAI, a violin-cello duo that channels the diversity of the world through genre-bending music

Special offstage moments: TED@PMI attendees also experienced meditation and mindfulness training; a conversation with TED arts and design curator Chee Pearlman and lifestyle expert Shira Gill; a speaker panel moderated by PMI brand specialist Ryan Brooks; a workout session with celebrity trainer Ngo Okafor; and a dance party with DJ Mad Marj.

The talks in brief:

Billy Samuel Mwape, project management professional 

Big idea: Project management can help you tackle life’s biggest challenges.

How? After his son Lubuto was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Billy Samuel Mwape realized that his project management skills might be put to use to support his son’s needs. Project management — the process of leading a team’s work in order to achieve specific goals within a specific period of time — uses quick “sprints” to gradually create big results. In this case, the goal was to encourage Lubuto’s neuroplasticity before he reached the age of five. So Mwape gathered an agile team: his wife (and, later, their newborn daughter) along with a speech therapist, occupational therapist and physical therapist. Over the course of five years, with persistent effort and courage, Lubuto has seen incredible progress in his independent movement, balance and coordination.

Quote of the talk: “We’ve been blown away by the amazing results we’ve witnessed as a result of this experimental methodology. And now we proudly call ourselves ‘agile parents.’”


Betsy Kauffman, leadership coach

Big idea: To build healthier and more productive workplaces, we need to develop the courage to have more honest and blunt conversations.

How? It can be difficult to disagree with colleagues during work meetings, even if you know others feel the same. That discomfort often keeps people silent, slowing down progress and stifling innovation. Betsy Kauffman believes we need to stop grumbling around the water cooler and instead gather the courage to be blunter where and when it counts. She offers four tips to successfully kickstart more honest conversations at work: build up your confidence; be clear in your intentions and goals; ensure your delivery is simple, factual and without targeted blame; and keep a laser focus on possible solutions. Instead of staying quiet when you disagree with a work decision or notice a flaw within project management, Kauffman encourages us to voice our insights and ideas. Workplace honesty doesn’t have to be hurtful or spiteful — in fact, it can empower others to speak up and help develop a culture of innovation and collaboration.

Quote of the talk: “The best organizations are full of people, at all levels, that have the courage to tackle tough topics. By being open and honest, we are not only helping ourselves, but also our organizations to have these conversations — and those are the ones that are needed the most.”


Violin-cello duo ARKAI gives a genre-bending performance at TED@PMI on September 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Chiwuike Amaechi, subsea engineer

Big idea: Storytelling is a powerful tool to create a cohesive and productive team.

How? How can teams become more engaged and self-driven? To answer this question, Chiwuike Amaechi reflects on what he learned while working offshore as a subsea engineer, applying early-career lessons to the office environment. At sea, he says, teams worked together because every member was part of a common story. Each campaign had a beginning and an end with a clear objective that required them to work together to overcome often dangerous obstacles. Although office workers aren’t typically faced with treacherous subsea conditions, leaders can create a sense of unity by communicating the story of projects, deadlines and goals with all team members, giving everyone a role and purpose in the tale. This shared narrative, he says, drives a positive response to change — not just from the top down but from the bottom up.  

Quote of the talk: “We are familiar with the organizational pyramid: the mission and vision often are clear at the top, though sometimes nobody bothers to share the story with the folks in the basement.”


Dinae Knox, author, youth leadership advocate

Big idea: We must confront what fuels our egos, cultivate those learnings and transform them into the fertile ground needed to become our best selves.

How? It’s not as simple or rosy as turning lemons into lemonade, but Knox offers a process for grappling with and ultimately thriving from — to be straightforward, in the spirit of the talk — the “shit” life throws your way. She uses her own life as an example, citing the trauma and adversity that robbed her childhood and helped form an ego that protected herself and prickled others. The exercise, or as she calls them “ego EQ check-ins,” was inspired by a work conversation and a video about an innovative business, which initiated a course of deep self-reflection — one that she’s happy to share. Knox walks us through the mindset shift necessary to develop and maintain a healthy ego. It’s up to you whether you change or stay the same.

Quote of the talk: “The shit life throws at you, drops on your head, allows you to step in — [it] can be life’s way of preparing you for your best life ever … a you that blossomed despite the shit you had to grow through.”


What can Mongolian nomads teach us about living sustainably? Khulan Batkhuyag shares her answer at TED@PMI on September 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Khulan Batkhuyag, environmental activist

Big idea: By learning from the nomadic people of rural Mongolia, we can fortify our sense of community, restore our relationship with the earth and learn to live more sustainably.

How? Mongolian nomads can teach us a lot about how to survive in the years and decades to come, says Khulan Batkhuyag. On travels through the country’s stunning rural landscape — which remains virtually untouched across large areas — she learned how Mongolian nomads have survived in remote areas for thousands of years. The secret? By persevering as a community (Mongolian nomads welcome into their homes anyone in need of help) and by virtue of some truly incredible, earth-friendly, zero-waste innovations (for instance: burning dried cow dung, instead of fuel, to keep warm). This is a different form of sophistication than developed countries, Batkhuyag says, but no less valuable. Indeed, there’s wisdom here for all of us on how to live more minimally, sustainably and in harmony with Mother Nature.

Quote of the talk: “We’re all guests in this world. So let’s do right by the earth, and by each other.”


Jess Woods, performance psychologist

Big idea: By regulating your emotions, you can avoid “prickly” situations and perform at your peak.

How? While hiking in the Arizona desert, Jess Woods came across a fluffy-looking plant — only to discover that it was actually the jumping cholla cactus. When touched, this cactus detaches from its base plant and (quite painfully) latches onto unsuspecting victims. Amid the physical discomfort, Woods saw a metaphor: much like the prickly spikes, emotions — when left unsupervised — can get under the skin, cause harm and mess with performance. The solution? Using specific strategies to regulate your reactions. By practicing “cognitive reappraisal” for instance — reframing how you interpret a situation — you can learn to accept a moment for what it is, as opposed to what you want it to be. In this way, you can gain self-awareness over your emotions and regain control of your actions.

Quote of the talk: “You can catch the emotions of other people and then take them on as your own. The problem is that most of us are highly susceptible to other people’s emotions, which means even the smallest external factor can impact how we perform at work, on the field and even at home.”

from TED Blog https://ift.tt/2G9zzaf