CS Unplugged and Middle-School Students’ Views, Attitudes, and Intentions Regarding CS
I had heard references to “the April TOCE article about CS Unplugged,” and finally looked it up. Below is the abstract. It’s not really a surprising finding — just doing some activity doesn’t necessarily lead to transferable learning, to learning that you connect to other areas of the curriculum. “Learning by doing” does not mean that any doing will lead to learning. The default for learning anything is “brittle knowledge.” It’s hard to make connections. What this article is saying is: You need to make connections for CS Unplugged to have impact. Students won’t connect CS Unplugged activities, by themselves, to computer science.
Many students hold incorrect ideas and negative attitudes about computer science (CS). In order to address these difficulties, a series of learning activities called Computer Science Unplugged was developed by Tim Bell and his colleagues. These activities expose young people to central concepts in CS in an entertaining way without requiring a computer. The CS Unplugged activities have become more and more popular among CS educators and several activities are recommended in the ACM K-12 curriculum for elementary schools. CS Unplugged is used worldwide and has been translated into many languages.
We examined the effect of the CS Unplugged activities on middle-school students’ ideas about CS and their desire to consider and study it in high school. The results indicate that following the activities the ideas of the students on what CS is about were partially improved, but their desire to study CS lessened.
In order to provide possible explanations to these results, we analyzed the CS Unplugged activities to determine to what extent the objectives of CS Unplugged were addressed in the activities. In addition, we checked whether the activities were designed according to constructivist principles and whether they were explicitly linked to central concepts in CS. We found that only some of the objectives were addressed in the activities, that the activities do not engage with the students’ prior knowledge and that most of the activities are not explicitly linked to central concepts in CS. We offer suggestions for modifying the CS Unplugged activities so that they will be more likely to achieve their objectives.