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Misconceptions and the Notional Machine in Very Young Programming Learners (RTP)

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Tony Andrew Lowe Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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Tony Lowe is a PhD student in Engineering Education at Purdue University. He has a BSEE from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and a MSIT from Capella. To pass the time between classes he works for Anthem as a software architect and teaches as an adjunct at CTU Online.

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This study looks to capture misunderstandings early programming experience which lead to mistakes as they start coding. A variety of national effort are extending programming education to younger and younger learners who are tackling an educational challenge many adults struggle to learn. Literature captures common misconceptions in dealing with programming constructs such as conditionals, loops, and recursion for older learners, but for early learners it may be years before they tackle these more complex concepts. A common cause for misconception is the lack of, or inaccurate notional machine. A notional machine is a mental model which describes how a programming language executes on a real device. The concept of a notional machine aligns well with traditional learning models for young students from several educational theorists, from Dewey’s experiential learning to Bruner’s enactive representations. Is the development of a notional machine, even in a highly simplified form, equally critical to learning programming as experience was to Dewey and Bruner? To better understand the early thought process of young novices this study looks at videos of early elementary students working to create basic programming of robots. By capturing their intended plan (from various representations of their planned program), seeing the resulting execution, and tracking their corresponding corrections to the program we can inventory the types of mistakes learners make, and what strategies they learn to achieve their goals. The hope is to create a corresponding inventory of common mistakes of early learners in the spirit of those made by later programmers, and thus suggest pedagogical strategies to combat early misconceptions.

Lowe, T. A. (2018, June), Misconceptions and the Notional Machine in Very Young Programming Learners (RTP) Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

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