Petit Manan Lighthouse, off the Maine coast

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Programming in Elementary Schools

Teaching programming to early elementary school students. Programming is seldom taught earlier than middle school, and when it is, it is done using a simplified language such as Logo. The Alice programming language, which includes advanced concepts of object-oriented programming, is designed to teach children, but it is generally used to introduce programming to middle school, high school, or even college students.

A research project in the Department looks at whether Alice and Scratch, another programming language targeted toward children, can be used to teach programming at the early elementary school level. A graduate student, Jaimi Allen, developed and taught an Alice-based course to 3rd and 4th graders at All Saints Catholic School in Bangor in Spring 2009, helped by her advisor (Roy Turner) and a senior (Adi Levy). A follow-on course will be taught in Fall 2009 by Adi Levy, and a similar course using Scratch will be taught by Jaimi Allen to the same age group during the same time period. Data gathered from these projects should allow us to begin to understand whether children of this age can successfully learn to program using languages such as these. We are also interested in examining gender differences at this age with respect to learning to program.