H. Tsalapatas1, O. Heidmann2, R. Alimisi2, C. Florou1, E. Houstis2

Education must empower learners to act effectively in an evolving society where analytical thinking skills will be increasingly needed (ET2020). The cMinds project proposes a learning intervention that exploits new technologies and promotes the adoption of ET2020 educational objectives by schools through the development of transversal learning skills, namely analytical and critical thinking, independent learning, learning in groups, and entrepreneurial thinking that help learners excel academically in all subject areas of the school curriculum.
The cMinds project integrates inquiry-based learning methodologies and information technology into a virtual learning suite that deploys programming concepts towards the development of analytical thinking capacity among young learners. The learning suite starts by introducing children to basic programming constructs such as conditionals, while-loops, and switches. Once an adequate degree of familiarity with basic programming concepts is established, the suite encourages learners to explore the solution to a wide range of logical problems through visual programming. This is pursued through hands-on experimentation in a process that simulates sketching ideas on paper to help build insight on an actual solution. Once a solution is intuitively synthesized, the suite gives learners the opportunity to implement through dragging and dropping a visual program that solves the problem at hand using exact commands. The suite concludes by enabling children to compare their solution to an “optimal” one thus reinforcing the outcomes of the learning process, encouraging children to discuss their choices, and triggering mechanisms of reflection.
The cMinds learning suite integrates classic logical problems that are already used by teachers in classrooms. The selected exercises help learners build algorithmic thinking capacity through educational games. The “Friezes” puzzle is a pattern recognition exercise in which learners discover series of repeating shapes; the “Eggs” is a pattern recognition and sorting exercise in which learners categorize objects based on specific characteristics; the “Santa Clause’s Socks” is a divide-and-conquer exercise in which learners discover efficiently the single heavier present among otherwise identical packages; the “Water Jugs” is a brute-force exercise in which learners fill a water container with the help of two smaller ones with specific volumes; the “River Crossing” puzzle is a typical rule-driven exercise in which a group must cross a river following restrictions; finally, a “Math” activity brings into focus the concepts of estimation and subtraction.
Supporting material targeting instructors in the form of learning sheets, scientific links, good practice videos, and collaboration facilities is introduced to support the teaching process and to facilitate smooth integration of cMinds outcomes into classrooms, enhancing teachers’ skills, and encouraging them to take an active role in designing similar learning interventions tailored to the specific needs of their learners. Early feedback from the deployment of the cMinds learning methodologies, tools, and activities in classrooms in Greece, Sweden, Romania, and the Czech Republic demonstrate a high level of engagement by teachers and learners.
The project is partly funded by the Comenius Action of the Life Long Learning Programme of the European Commission and runs from 2010 to 2012.