Experience-Based Learning: Best Practices for Informatics Education
Science education can help people to understand the nature and utility of science. However, the vast majority of students have no knowledge of most of scientific basic terms or concepts. Algorithmic thinking is considered to be one of the key competences of students from primary to higher education. The goal of the paper is to make a summary of student’s activities that involves something personally significant or meaningful to the students. This paper tries to point out the possibility of alternative methods of teaching logical and computational thinking via experimental activities.
We learn by doing, by observing, by listening, by reading and by teaching others. In many cases, it is difficult to define what doing might mean with respect to a given subject and to attempt to implement a realistic sense of doing in a classroom setting. When there are "doing devices" available, it is easier to implement learning by doing (Schank, 1995). Experiential learning is a well-known model in education (SPTELG, 2012). Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 1984) defines experiential learning as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming the experience. Kolb’s learning cycle proposes that we all learn from our experience in a cyclical way (Figure 1). People observe something happening and reflect on their observations. This experience and reflection are then incorporated into the theoretical knowledge that the person already possesses, or is supported by reading and training, building up a framework into which to fit their experience. (Skill You Need, 2015). Experiential learning theory provides a solid foundation for leader-ship education, as well as a framework for developing and implementing programs for students to reach their full leadership capacity (Guthrie & Jones, 2012).
Figure 1. Kolb’s experimental leaning cycle (The Verbal to Visual Clasroom, 2015).
Experience learning theory is intended to be a holistic adaptive process on learning that merges experience, perception, cognition and behaviour. Previous research has shown that learning styles are influenced by personality type, educational specialization, career choice, current job role and tasks, and cultural influences (McCarthy, 2010).
We try to point out the possibility of alternative methods of teaching logical thinking via experimental activities. Very important student’s activities in education are hands-on activities. Learners can review important math skills, logical reasoning and much more with hands-on games that can typically be enjoyed with common household materials like playing cards, construction paper or sidewalk chalk (Education, 2016). There is a variety of typical activation methods (Figure 2) but we may also notice using modern way of teaching using mobile devices in outdoor activities (Lovászová & Palmárová, 2013).
Figure 2. Activating teaching methods.
The sum of general and specific use cases targeting the learning objectives stated by the Informatics curriculum is presented. They were implemented during the regular lessons, non-formal workshops or summer camps and comprised both, the indoor and outdoor scenarios. They focus on informatics concepts and were designed to foster computational and logical thinking. We will describe the activities in these categories:
• algorithmic games (Magic with Playing Cards),
• problem solving (The Black Box Method) ,
• computer science unplugged,
• outdoor games.
When designing the learning activities, more aspects were taken into account: the learning activities varied as for their contents, educational goals of the learning activities, various teaching/learning methods and using a various aid such as physical objects or digital devices (Cápay, Lovászová & Michaličková , 2015).
Playing Cards Games
Tricks using playing cards are still highly popular with the audience. Even small children are able to learn some card tricks from their relatives, but only a few of them think that the majority of the trick is only algorithms designed in advance and before selected procedures. Even teachers are not aware that such a playful form can be particularly effective, and motivate students to develop their critical and algorithmic thinking, but be careful, because most of the cards tricks are just illusion or cheat, only a minor of tricks have a real algorithmic background. We may also find playing cards algorithms that present problem of searching, sorting or control check sum (Cápay, 2013).
The Black Box Method
The Black Box Method (BBM) is considered to be an activating teaching method. Applying the BBM, we teach the students to systematically examine the things around them and think about the technologies they use. Learning using the black box is the most natural way of learning. In general, the Black Box is a substantial system (object, process, and phenomenon) with internal organization, structure and element behavior, about which the observer has no information, but has the option of impacting the whole system via its inputs and registers its reactions via its outputs. The observation of the black box is therefore behavioral. The observer affects the black box via its input and gets information from its output (Figure 3) (Cápay & Magdin, 2013).
Figure 3. Scheme of the method of black box principle.
The contribution of the BBM lies in teaching the basic skills of scientific approach (Cápay & Magdin, 2013):
• to analyze the current situation,
• to lay hypotheses,
• to verify the correctness of uttered assumptions.
Computer science unplugged
Computer Science Unplugged is a collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles that use cards, string, crayons and lots of running around (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Teachers aids for computer science activities.
The games with relatively simple materials educate young students about computer science fundamentals. It is devoted to the visualization of abstract concepts of the main principles of the computer science through experiential teaching. The activities introduce students to underlying concepts from the distractions and technical details we usually see with computers. The visualization is an issue that could change the view of the not very popular parts of computer science. It has been shown that the elements of non-formal education are helpful (Cápay, 2015).
Mobile technology provides an opportunity for a fundamental change in education away from the occasional use of computers in a specialized classroom towards more embedded use in the standard classroom. Tablets’ portability, touchscreen technology and sensors make them the tool suitable also outside the classroom. Playing the outdoor game, e.g. GPS Drawing, Geocaching, Reverse Geocaching or Wherigo with pupils was found beneficial for different reasons: the informal and competitive atmosphere of a game, the motivation of pupils to participate actively, learns constructively by problem solving and performing experiments, individually or in collaboration within teams.
Health and social aspects of playing outdoors with fellows should not be omitted as well (Lovászová, Michaličková & Cápay, 2015).
The general feedback from all children, adult volunteers as well as children’s parents was very positive. Though this was also very important to us, during this experiment, we wanted to evaluate the quality of suggested learning activities from the methodical point of view. The interviews with children confirmed our assumptions about their intuitive using of many tools. Children learn from their tries and errors. Such situations provide excellent motivation for discussion that may lead to deeper understanding and new knowledge.
The research leading to these results has received within the framework of the IRNet project, funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013/ under REA grant agreement No: PIRSES-GA-2013-612536.
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