Fostering Computational Thinking and Creativity in Early Childhood Education: Play-Learn-Construct-Program-Collaborate

Fostering Computational Thinking and Creativity in Early Childhood Education: Play-Learn-Construct-Program-Collaborate

Katerina V. Glezou (Arsakeia Schools Psychikou, Greece)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1486-3.ch016
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This chapter focuses on the design and implementation of coding, programming, and robotics activities in real-world classroom conditions in early childhood education that foster computational thinking and creativity. The study extends the author's experience in designing learning environments through experimentation, exploration, expression, construction, meaning negotiation, and collaboration. The author tries to gain further insight into the potential of implementing unplugged activities, robotics systems, and programming environments in the context of multi-disciplinary, hands-on activities. Using a variety of tools, strategies, and methods as well as qualitative approaches employed in case studies of classroom practice during Afternoon Robotics Club courses, the findings highlight the overall process indicating some special features that contribute to or cause difficulty in the formation of an effective learning experience. Special issues of interest, key aspects, solutions, and recommendations, as well as future research directions, are discussed.
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Computational Thinking (CT) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education have received growing attention over the last decade within all school levels. However, the introduction and exploitation of appropriate unplugged activities, educational robotics systems and digital learning environments in the classroom still remains an open, composite and multifactoral issue.

Learning to think ‘computationally’ has long been recognized as an important issue (Papert, 1980). In recent years, the CT concept has regained increased significance and has been considered a fundamental skill for all along with reading, writing and arithmetic (Wing, 2006).

Nowadays, both in the international and Greek educational community, increasing efforts are focused on the integration and utilization of educational robotics and the STEAM approach in teaching practice as a vehicle to develop computational thinking and creativity. Robotics is emerging as an important tool in the teaching-learning process, enabling the formation of a collaborative environment and student-centered constructionist teaching practices, and giving emphasis on the active engagement and building of personal meaning by students. The involvement of students and teachers in robotics and STEAM activities contributes to the development of useful skills needed in the 21st century, which is characterized by an increased demand for high-tech applications, as concepts and values, with computational thinking, problem solving, creativity, and team collaboration taking priority over others.

The term “21st century skills” is used to refer to a range of skills, abilities and competencies that are considered to be required for success in 21st century society and workplaces in a constantly evolving technological landscape. In order to succeed in the 21st century, students must learn much more than the “three Rs” (: reading, writing, arithmetic) and basic computer competency. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (now the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, or P21) organization identified deeper learning competencies and skills that they called the “Four Cs” of 21st century learning: Collaboration, Communication, Critical thinking, Creativity.

Although today's students belong to digital natives, it becomes mandatory for teachers to develop students' digital competencies, with particular care to the development of computational thinking. There is a widespread recognition of the need to train teachers - digital immigrants in the vast majority - regarding coding, programming and robotics activities in classroom settings.

This chapter presents a constructionist approach to develop computational thinking and creativity by engaging in programming and robotics activities in the early childhood classroom. This chapter describes teaching interventions that have been implemented in real conditions to kindergarten and elementary school students during the Afternoon Robotics Club courses at Arsakeia Schools Psychikou in Athens, Greece. It presents authentic examples regarding specially designed, age- and pedagogically appropriate educational robotics systems for Early Childhood Primary Education. More specifically, the paradigms concern the utilization of Bee-Bot for kindergarten children and students in the 1st grade of elementary school (5-6 years old students), as well as of Lego WeDo 1.0 and Lego WeDo 2.0 packages for the 3rd and 4th grade (8-9 years old students). The use of Lego WeDo packages involves beyond building robotic constructions programming in Scratch environment.

Indicative questions to be explored in this chapter are: (i) Which robotics systems and which relevant learning resources are appropriate for each age stage? (ii) What are the advantages of exploiting robotic systems and the respective presuppositions? and (iii) What are the difficulties that arise and how can they be dealt with in order to achieve the best learning outcomes?

Within the framework of these questions, an exploratory case study, concerning computational thinking by students engaging in programming and robotics activities, has been conducted and is described below.

Key Terms in this Chapter

STEAM: An educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, critical thinking, problem solving, experiential learning and collaboration.

Creativity: The ability to use imagination or original ideas to create a tangible or intangible new item by making connections between seemingly unrelated topics and generating solutions to a problem.

Computational Thinking: A set of problem-solving skills, methods and practices that involve understanding problems and their solutions in ways that a computer could execute.

Programming Language: A formal language, which comprises a set of instructions that produce various kinds of output in order to implement algorithms and communicate with a computer.

Computer Science: The study of processes, methods and tools that interact with data to manipulate, store and communicate digital information.

Algorithm: A sequence of instructions to solve a problem or perform a task.

Educational Robotics: The use of programmable robot constructs in the teaching and learning process in order to engage groups of students in playful collaborative problem solving activities.

Computer Programming: The process of designing and building an executable computer program for accomplishing a specific computing task.

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