Elizabeth Cole

My name is Elizabeth Cole and I am currently undertaking a part-time PhD at the University of Glasgow. Based in the Centre for Computing Science Education I embarked upon a PhD to ensure CS curricula reform and pedagogy was informed by academic rigor. My work focuses mainly in the Early Years setting and primary (k-6) although it takes account of progress made in secondary and tertiary education to improve student learning. 

Play-based learning improves the health of young children under the age of eight. It is essential for a child’s physical, social, emotional well-being and cognitive development. Screen time and digital devices, on the other hand, remain a contentious issue at this critical period of rapid brain development. With this in mind, the increase of computing education curricula calls for cognitively appropriate pedagogy at this age and stage of a child’s formal education.  My work proposes that the early foundation skills for successful programming are developed long before a child starts school.  Research activities to date include establishing the value of computing science skills in non-digital industries, the relationship of adult programmers and their early play experiences and the success of children undertaking block programming in formal education. Most recently, I focused on the early play experiences of one hundred middle school children (P4-P5) participating in an introductory programming course. Survey data on participants’ early play experiences and socio-economic status (SES) was gathered and analysed in relation to their progress on the course.  The course delivered by non-specialist class teachers immerses children in the core concepts of computing science. Next children learn about the tools that apply the core concepts before creating solutions. Emerging findings show no relationship between participants SES status and progress. However, early low-tech play experiences do matter.

Further exploration of early play experiences, the development of natural language and the requisites for success in introductory programming courses in primary school is required. It would appear that children understanding both the structural appearance of code and how it operates during execution correlates well with their emergent literacy skills.  Syntax acquisition, vocabulary and sentence constructs enable children to give meaning to individual words and sentences. These skills develop through immersion in oral language through day to day activities including play. I propose that, if a child is unable to provide meaning to words in literacy, then learning to read will be challenging and learning to code impossible.