Dancing and singing humans, even more than robots
I finished up the “Georgia Computes!” report on our first four years just before the holidays. One of the evaluation studies we did was to look at the contexts that we use in our Girl Scout workshops and how those contexts influenced student attitude change. We asked students before and after each event (for everything — summer camps, YWCA afterschool activities, as well as Girl Scout camps) whether they agreed or disagreed with seven statements:
1. Computers are fun 2. Programming is hard 3. Girls can do computing 4. Boys can do computing 5. Computer jobs are boring. 6. I am good at computing. 7. I like computing 8. I know more than my friends about computers.
In the one study, we looked at a set of workshops over a multi-year period with over 600 Girl Scouts involved. We looked at where we got changes in attitudes, and computed the effect size. Here’s one of the tables of results:
This table shows the number of Girl Scout workshops that we had with each context, the number of large/medium/small effect sizes that we saw, and total number of effects. What we see here is that Pico Crickets and Scratch have the most effect: The most large effects, and the most overall effects. We’ve done a lot of different things in our robotics workshops, from following mazes to singing-and-dancing robots. Lego Mindstorm workshops (seven different ones, using a variety of activities) had only small effects on changes in attitudes. This isn’t saying that Lego robotics can’t be an effective context for making more positive Girl Scouts’ attitudes about computing. We are finding that it is harder than with these other contexts. I hope that someone replicates this study with even larger n, showing an approach to using Lego Robotics with Girl Scouts that leads to many large effects on attitudes. We just haven’t been able to find that yet.
Over the Christmas holiday, our extended family has been playing a bunch of great Wii games, including karaoke, “Just Dance,” and various Rock Band games. Barb and I discovered this morning that we were thinking the same thing about these games: What a great context for learning programming! Barb was noting that “Just Dance” uses a small icon to represent (abstraction!) a particular dance move, which is then repeated several times (iteration!). I was thinking about the great computing and media ideas required to build this kind of software: From digital signal processing to detect pitch, to the ubiquitous computing ideas involved in sensing the world (e.g., the accelerometers used to detect body motion in the dance games). We could use an inquiry-based approach to teach computing through these (amazingly popular!) games, e.g., “How do you think Rock Band figures out if you’re singing the right pitch?” and “How accurate do you think the motion detection in ‘Just Dance’ is?”
This is how we should identify contexts to use in contextualized computing education. What are the application areas that students find intriguing? What computing ideas do we want to teach and can be taught with those areas? Even though we may like robotics, if the student audiences that we’re seeking don’t, then it’s not a great context. There are many great contexts out there, many that are even more popular and even more powerful than what we use today. People like to sing and dance, even more than making robots sing and dance. Learning to build software to support that sounds like a great context.