Manifestations of preoperational reasoning on similar programming tasks

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology Series, 2014, 148 pp. 65 - 74
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© 2014, Australian Computer Society, Inc. In this research paper, we study a simple programming problem that only requires knowledge of variables and assignment statements, and yet we found that some early novice programmers had difficulty solving the problem. We also present data from think aloud studies which demonstrate the nature of those difficulties. We interpret our data within a neo-Piagetian framework which describes cognitive developmental stages through which students pass as they learn to program. We describe in detail think aloud sessions with novices who reason at the neo-Piagetian preoperational level. Those students exhibit two problems. First, they focus on very small parts of the code and lose sight of the "big picture". Second, they are prone to focus on superficial aspects of the task that are not functionally central to the solution. It is not until the transition into the concrete operational stage that decentration of focus occurs, and they have the cognitive ability to reason about abstract quantities that are conserved, and are equipped to adapt skills to closely related tasks. Our results, and the neo-Piagetian framework on which they are based, suggest that changes are necessary in teaching practice to better support novices who have not reached the concrete operational stage.
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