DEVELOPMENT OF PROGRAMMING EDUCATION MATERIAL FOR ELEMENTARY STUDENTS TO LEARN COMPUTATIONAL THINKING

A. Ohno, T. Yamasaki, K. Tokiwa

Osaka Sangyo University (JAPAN)
Programming education will be compulsory at Japanese elementary schools beginning in 2020. According to public documents, the government will require elementary students to learn these abilities, such as the following, by incorporating lessons into existing course instruction: ability to objectively analyze, deconstruct, and organize a task and reconstruct the process to solve the problem as a sequence of feasible procedures. Or, the ability to grasp the current status as a starting point, set specific targets for achievement, and take necessary steps to reach the goal.

The aim is for students to be able to understand the difference between human and computerized procedures, and how to translate humans’ work into feasible tasks for computers. Achieving this goal will make good use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), which are becoming essential skills for the Industry 4.0 paradigm.

Learning computer algorithms that are generalized procedures of problem resolution can be effective in learning this ability; however, it may be difficult for students with little understanding of programming or computer systems, as well as elementary students, to understand these procedures that are different from the way how humans think and do naturally.

This study examines what and how to learn in order to obtain computational thinking, which is a goal of the soon-to-be compulsory programming education in elementary school.
As a first step of the study, we developed an educational material for elementary students using Augmented Reality (AR) to teach concrete examples of computational thinking. The material consists of six boxes that have lids that are regarded as variables, and an application program that can recognize AR markers to overlay predefined content onto scenes with the real-world boxes captured by a camera connected to the computer. Children can experience the entire process of bubble sort algorithm by checking and comparing the height of animals displayed on the AR marker in each of the boxes as contents of the boxes by using AR technology.

Because the material is developed as a set of “real” boxes instead of a textbook or a computer simulation, children can learn about the sort algorithm together as collaborative and active learning, and it requires them to move their hands and do all necessary steps by themselves to achieve empirical learning.

In a bubble sort algorithm, contents are arranged in a line of variables in ascending order through two steps:
(1) access and compare the contents in a pair of variables, and
(2) if the numbers are already in ascending order, leave them as is; if not, exchange the numbers between the variables. These steps are repeated until all contents in the line of variables are arranged in ascending order.

In this paper, we outline students’ acquisition of computational thinking, which Japan is aiming to achieve through compulsory programming education in elementary school. We also explain the educational material to support teaching computational thinking for elementary students and report the results and findings from an evaluation experiment conducted in one public elementary school in Japan.