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Saturday, March 12 • 2:00pm - 2:45pm
The First Three Development Stages of the Novice Programmer

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I will begin by describing the three neo-Piagetian stages of learning to program: sensorimotor, preoperational and concrete operational.

Students at the sensorimotor stage experience three broad types of difficulties: (1) misconceptions about specific aspects of how a program works, (2) they make frequent errors when they manually execute code, and (3) they tend to anthropomorphise the computer. I will provide examples of these three types of difficulties, and point the audience to literature on these difficulties.

Students at the preoperational stage have largely overcome the difficulties of the sensorimotor stage and can reliably manually execute code, but they do not see the algorithm in the code. For example, they struggle to relate code to a picture which represents what the code does. If asked to explain what a piece of code does, students at the preoperational stage tend to manually execute the code using some randomly chosen initial values, and then make an inductive guess, based upon the code’s input/output behaviour.

It is only at the third stage, the concrete operational stage, that students begin to think in a way that resembles a competent programmer. It is only with students at this third stage that traditional approaches to teaching programming become very effective.

I will then provide the attendees with some work sheets that I have developed for my own teaching, which illustrate more effective teaching and learning strategies for students at the sensorimotor and preoperational stages. I expect that the subsequent Q&A will revolve around these worksheets.

avatar for Raymond Lister

Raymond Lister

Associate Professor, University of Technology Sydney
Raymond Lister is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at University of Technology Sydney. For the last fifteen years, his primary research interest has been Computing Education, especially the study of novice programmers. He has published... Read More →

Saturday March 12, 2016 2:00pm - 2:45pm AEDT
R4 C3.8