Promoting Commenting and Debugging in Early Years Programming

Promoting Commenting and Debugging in Early Years Programming


One hundred twelve first and third graders in an urban area of Indiana are engaged in commenting on and debugging programming code using a tangible programming system that works with an Ipad.


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivation and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). It is essential that STEM professionals effectively and efficiently communicate and justify processes, and find and fix mistakes. In this project, researchers will investigate how students' explanations during play, and the use of step-by-step demonstrations of problem-solving, called worked examples, can enable early elementary school students, female students in particular, to gain familiarity and competency with commenting and debugging computer programming code. Establishing these practices in elementary education could help create a workforce where commenting on code and explaining one's process of thinking is natural and expected. The project will connect students' programming experiences with those of industry professionals in an effort to increase their interest in future STEM careers.

Over a series of interventional sessions, pairs of first- and third-graders will work in partners to learn how to program using the Coding Awbie game by OSMO(TM). In particular, researchers will investigate the following research questions over two years: (1) How and when do first- and third-graders comment on and debug their code during free-play compared to when they are asked to explain what they will do before playing, i.e., explained play? (2) How does students' commenting and debugging compare and change depending on if they analyze worked examples before or after their play? (3) How does students' commenting and debugging of worked examples relate to their explaining and correcting errors in mathematics problems in addition to computer coding? (4) How does the intervention affect students' early attitudes toward programming and knowledge of the role of programming in STEM professions? Measures include programming and mathematics explanation and debugging tasks as well as surveys related to programming. Through this repeated measures design, researchers will learn what conditions best support students' explaining and debugging while learning to code within the program, and students will gain important STEM practices in their early years of elementary education. Further, presentations by industry professionals will help connect the practices to a variety of STEM careers, helping students see the relevance of the practices of explaining and debugging.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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2018 - 2022



Purdue University .

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