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Teaching problem solving and computing science in the schools: Concepts and assessment

Principal investigators

Ulrike Stege, University of Victoria

Dr. Stege is an Associate Professor & director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Victoria. Her main research interests are interdisciplinary, including the areas of Parameterized Complexity, Computational Biology, Cognitive Science & Human Problem Solving, and Computer Science Education.

Yvonne Coady, University of Victoria

Dr. Coady is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Victoria. Her interests are Contributions from the MOD(ularity) Squad address software engineering challenges in modern system infrastructure software. Our work has resulted in contributions falling into three core areas: traditional system evolution and maintenance, emerging avenues of advanced modularity across the software stack, and new programming paradigms and future pedagogical directions in concurrent environments.

Research Assistants

  • Sarah Carruthers, Grasping graphs. (2010). Master of Science thesis, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC. http://hdl.handle.net/1828/3193
  • Katherine Gunion, FUNdamentals of CS: Designing and evaluating computer science activities for kids. (2009). Master of Science thesis, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC. http://hdl.handle.net/1828/2750

Description

The basic motivation behind this research is to expand the age range of students exposed to computer science and computer science concepts (such as recursion, concurrency and graph theory concepts) through the development and deployment of interesting and engaging hands-on computer science activities. The main goals are to determine ways, if possible, to teach traditionally difficult concepts to younger students and thus potentially increase students’ exposure to, understanding of, and positive attitudes toward computer science. Although findings from the studies are preliminary, the general results are encouraging. Study 1 provided evidence that despite initial levels of frustration with the concept of recursion, increased understanding and application of skills were observed with middle school students. Study 2 explored concurrency using recent advancements in programming languages designed specifically for young programmers. This project with Grade 7 students involving everyday scenarios such as dishwashing and buying movie theatre tickets demonstrated ways in which these students were able to reason through and propose solutions for complex problems. Study 3 evaluated the use of graph theory instruction on Grade 6 students’ abilities to solve grade appropriate mathematics problems. Preliminary results show that after a single instructional session many of the students were able to identify both correct and incorrect graphs and identify certain properties of graphs. We have further identified graph theory applications that appear to appeal to students at this grade level. The studies took place in school district on Vancouver Island as well as the SPARCS Afterschool Club held in the Department of Computer Science at UVic.

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Publications

  • Refereed Publications
  • Carruthers, S., Gunion, K., & Stege, U. (2009). Computational biology unplugged! (invited workshop), Proceedings of the ACM SIGCSE 14th Western Canadian Conference on Computing Education (WCCCE’09) (p. 126).
  • Carruthers, S., Milford, T., Pelton, T., & Stege, U. (2010). Moving K-7 education into the information age, ACM SIGCSE. Proceedings of the 15th Western Canadian Conference on Computing Education (WCCCE’10), pp. 1–5.
  • Carruthers, S., Stege, U, Milford, T., Pelton, T. Draw a Social Network. To appear in Proceedings of the 14th Annual ACM SIGCSE Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE 2011)
  • Gunion, K., Milford, T., & Stege, U. (2009). Curing recursion aversion. Proceedings of the 14th Annual ACM SIGCSE Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE 2009) (pp. 124–128).
  • Gunion, K., Milford, T., & Stege, U. (2009). The paradigm recursion: Is it more accessible when introduced in middle school? Journal of Problem Solving, 2(2), 142–172.
  • Murdoch, J., St. Pierre, A., Coady, Y., Carruthers, S., Dunn-Krahn, R., Gibbs, C., Lonergan, S., Srivastava, G., Stege, U., & Yazir, O. (2007). SPARCS from the University of Victoria: Supporting sustainable and integrated outreach activities for educators and young minds. IEEE Meeting the Growing Demand for Engineers and Their Educators 2010–2020. http://hdl.handle.net/1828/1472
  • Invited Publications
  • Carruthers, S., K. Gunion, and U. Stege, “Computational biology unplugged!” in Proceedings of the 14th Western Canadian Conf. on Computing Education (WCCCE’09), Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, May 1-2, 2009.

Conference Presentations

  • Anthony, R., C. Tippet, U. Stege, & E. Van der Flier-Keller, “The outcomes of large-scale professional development in science education: Pacific CRYSTAL,” Int. Conf. of the Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE’10), Sacramento, USA, 2010.
  • Carruthers, S. (2010). Relational graphs: What are they? [Video]. Presented at the 41st ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE’10), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5TA5OtV-SM.
  • Carruthers, S. (2010). Computer science education: Thoughts and directions. Poster presented at the 41st ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE’10),
  • St. Pierre, A. Carruthers, S., Coady, Y., Dunn-Krahn, R., Dunn-Krahn, S., Gibbs, C., Gibbs, H., Lonergan, S., Proctor, J., Stege, U., Storey, C., & Storey, M.-A. (2007). Young minds storming through challenging computer science concepts. Paper presented to the Western Canadian Conf. on Computing Education (WCCCE’07).
  • Carruthers, S., Stege, U. Computatinal Biology Unplugged, workshop presented at CATALYST 2010

Teachers Resources

Stege, U. “Teaching binary numbers in K-12, teachers’ manual,” prepared for CATALYST’08, Kelowna, Apr 2008. SPARCS link (http://outreach.cs.uvic.ca/)

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