How to improve teaching in programming

Programming was introduced as a new element of Sweden’s compulsory school curriculum in 2018. It was linked to multiple subjects – mathematics, technology, crafts and social studies – to ensure that students gain a broad understanding of what programming is and how technical devices are controlled using code.

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Portrait of Anne-Marie Cederqvist.

Anne-Marie Cederqvist.

“Many of the technical devices we use every day, and depend on them, are programmed. Technology education has an important role to play in giving students a general grasp of how technology functions and enabling them to develop a critical approach to it. “If we don’t have this general education, our lives can easily end up in the hands of those who hold the knowledge and develop the technology,” says Anne-Marie Cederqvist.

However, many teachers are concerned about how to teach programming and the research in this area is also limited. Anne-Marie Cederqvist’s thesis is one of the first studies into how programming is taught within the subject of technology at Swedish compulsory schools.

Three studies

Anne-Marie Cederqvist conducted studies involving students aged 10–14 and the BBC micro:bit as a learning resource. Used in many schools, this is a microcontroller board that can be connected to different components, which can then be controlled by programming.

The students in the studies were asked to construct their own technical solutions using the BBC micro:bit, and then they analyzed and compared how well the constructed devices and programmed everyday devices are designed and how they work.

“The students appear to understand their own creations in one way and everyday devices in another way. The transfer of understanding is not as much of a given as we might think. “The fact that they can build and code devices in BBC micro:bit doesn’t mean that they understand how programmed everyday devices such as a remote control or a digital thermometer are constructed and operate,” says Anne-Marie Cederqvist.

Key elements of teaching

Anne-Marie Cederqvist has identified key elements that need to be highlighted by the teacher, in order to improve the teaching. These are:

  • Programming concepts and how to write code.
  • Knowledge of the materials that the students are working with.
  • The structure and function of the technical solution – that is, how different components interact (structure), but also how these interact with the code to get the solution to work (function).
  • The context. The students need to learn to be able to identify, analyze and compare technical solutions both in an everyday context and in relation to programming material.