Acquiring Problem-Solving Skills Through Coding Games in Primary School

Acquiring Problem-Solving Skills Through Coding Games in Primary School

Gaia Lombardi (Istituto Comprensivo Statale Via dei Salici, Legnano, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7271-9.ch035
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Play is a spontaneous and free activity of the child and its role in learning processes has been recognized by pedagogical studies from Piaget onwards. Game-based learning places the pupil at the center of the teaching-learning process, creating a motivating and challenging environment in which the pupil can learn freely, proceeding by trial and error, learning to evaluate their choices and those of other players and monitor a number of variables. Game-based learning therefore stands as an individualized and inclusive learning environment, which allows all students to achieve maximum educational success. In more recent years, the spread of online games, the use of coding as a teaching tool, and distance learning experiences have contributed to spreading game-based didactics. In this chapter, the author proposes a path of coding games for the development of problem solving in primary school with interdisciplinary links and to the mathematics curriculum.
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Play is a natural, spontaneous and fundamental activity for the child, whose importance in childhood development runs through the entire history of pedagogy: this idea has its roots mainly in the European Enlightenment and Romantic eras and the writing of philosophers, educators and pedagogists such as Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel, to get to the medical aprroach of Maria Montessori, who defines playing as “the child's job” (Montessori, M., 1948).

It is mainly with Piaget's studies that play is recognized as having an important role in cognitive development (Piaget, 1951 and 1953). Piaget's theories about learning emphasised the need for children to explore and experiment reality by themselves. For Piaget, play was a means by which children could develop and refine concepts before they had the ability to think in the abstract. At the first stages, sensorimotor play offers the children the opportunity to exercise their skills in movement, fine motor skills and prehension; at the preoperational stage (2 to 7 years) and at the following concrete stage (7 to 11 years), playing allows them, on a cognitive level, to refine their logical skills to elaborate the symbolic thought that will lead to the development of language and, later, the abstract thought (Piaget, 1954).

According to Vygotskij's constructivist studies (Vygotskij, 1966), play is placed in what is called the zone of proximal development, that is the intermediate area between what the child can do on his own and what he can learn if appropriately guided by an adult. While playing, the child surpasses himself, learns to create, to fantasize, and develops his own imagination. It is in this area that new skills are learned and new intellectual abilities develop: the zone of proximal development is the area in which the teacher's intervention can be most significant, especially if it is performed in a stimulating context, which gives space to the natural curiosity of the child and the exploration of knowledge. The zone of proximal development is therefore the “school zone” and, in the school, it can become the ideal place for active game-based learning. In recent years, and in particular with the spread of online games and the need to provide distance learning, the school system has been able to recognize the importance of game-based learning, in particular for the fostering of those basic skills that are now considered indispensable for the 21st Century citizen. Among these there is roblem olving, considered as the ability to pose and solve problematic situations in a creative way, making use of all one's cognitive resources and the different forms of intelligence that the individual is endowed with (Gardner, 1983). In the game the whole body of the child is involved, and all forms of intelligence are exercised, from the visuo-spatial one to the kinesthetic, from the logical-mathematical one to the linguistic, from the intrapersonal to the interpersonal. Furthermore, the play space is a free, rewarding, motivating space in which the child can learn by trial and error; playing also stands as a collaborative activity, in which to learn to cooperate to achieve the result. It is Bruner (Bruner, 1976) who points out that play offers an excellent opportunity for children, driven by his natural curiosity for the world, to try and experience several combinations of behaviors, at the same time minimizing the consequences of their actions by applying them in a situation of minimum risk, thus educating themselves to respect the rules. Bruner also introduces the “scaffolding” as a metaphor for the intervention of the expert person (an adult, or a peer) who helps the less experienced person (the child) in solving a problem or a task that he would not be able to complete on his own. This creates a close link between Bruber's scaffolding and Vygotsky's already mentioned “zone of proximal development”, that zone constituted by the distance between the actual level of development of the child (acquired skills) and the potential level (skills that can be acquired). The scaffolding provided by the expert compensates for the difference in level between the required skills and the child's capacity and allows him to operate at a level slightly higher than that of his actual development. When children receive the support they need in the initial phase of learning, it opens up for them the possibility of using the material made available at a later time, independently and effectively. Here is how play, in which the child experiences the world, relationships, objects, becomes a place and an opportunity for learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Robotics: In the didactic field, use of programmable objects with a playful purpose for the development of computational thinking.

Coding Unplugged: Coding activities, mainly of a playful nature, which do not involve the use of technological devices.

Multiple Intelligences: Different ways students learn and acquire information. These multiple intelligences range from the use of words, numbers, pictures and music, to the importance of social interactions, introspection, physical movement and being in tune with nature.

Computational Thinking: Cognitive tool that uses the fundamental concepts of computer science and programming to solve problems, define systems and understand human behavior.

Zone of Proximal Development: In Vygotskji's theory of development, it's the space between what the child can learn on his own and what he can learn under adult supervision.

Logical Skills: Skill set that enable to reason logically when posing or solving problems, improving the ability to provide well-reasoned answers to any issues and to make rational decisions.

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