INTRODUCING COMPUTATIONAL THINKING IN ITALIAN SCHOOLS: A FIRST REPORT ON “PROGRAMMA IL FUTURO” PROJECT
1 Università di Roma "Tor Vergata" (ITALY)
2 Università di Napoli "Federico II" (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2015 Proceedings
Publication year: 2015
Conference name: 9th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 2-4 March, 2015
Location: Madrid, Spain
Abstract:In the contemporary society, informatics plays a role similar to that played by mathematics in 19th and 20th centuries and the need of properly educating students in school to the scientific principles underlying information technologies is now widely recognized.
Currently, UK is the only European country where informatics is a mandatory subject for all schools, both primary and secondary ones. In the USA, few of the states had it in their curricula. To counter this situation, the no-profit organization Code.org launched in 2013 the “Hour of Code” project, with the initial goal of having each student in the world do at least one hour of programming and the final goal of having for each student a proper teaching in informatics.
The project is made up by a set of web-based tutorials, each of them organized as a series of 10 to 20 programming exercises. Tutorials are based on video games and cartoons characters, making them highly attractive to students. Students define their programs by combining visual blocks, much like it happens in Scratch. But differently from this platform, where the student is exposed since the beginning to the entire set of instructions, here the initial exercises are very trivial (e.g. have a bird move straight of 3 steps). The difficulty degree increases very slowly from one exercise to the next. A teacher is therefore able to follow her students during these tutorials with very little specific training in informatics.
This setting makes the “Hour of Code” project very well suited for a mass action in education, since being based on the support of only the local teacher it scales up seamlessly through the Internet. In 2013 alone, more than 40 million students did their first hour of code all around the world.
In the spring of March 2014 we agreed with the Italian Ministry of Education, University, and Research to use such a project to change the way informatics is taught in primary and lower secondary Italian schools. Our universities are members of a national consortium in Informatics, which was appointed the operating organization for the project, called “Programma il Futuro” (Program the Future), spanning 3 school-years.
For this goal we entirely translated the textual material of the tutorials, paying particular attention to scientific precision and consistency. We framed and presented the project to schools in term of learning “computational thinking”, so as to de-emphasize the technical and technological aspects of coding.
We implemented a support site (http://programmailfuturo.it) to allow teachers and students to register to code.org directly through us, so as to give us the possibility of building an Italian community of users. Following a carefully designed communication plan, our site provides a comprehensive guide for teachers. Moreover, we implemented a forum, structured in a set of threads, some of general nature (e.g., how to manage a class) others focused on the various tutorials. These last ones are staffed with informatics teachers of higher secondary schools, that can thus provide a proper training feedback on questions relative to specific issues of those tutorials.
The response has been enthusiastic: in just two months since advising schools about the project existence we have obtained more than 7.000 registered teachers and we have had more than 180.000 students do at least one hour of code (http://italia.code.org). Real life experience are reported through the Facebook page of the project.
Keywords: Computational thinking, web based learning, informatics education.