Coding while Making: using Blocks Language in a Physical Computing Setting
Blocks languages have been very well received in recent years thanks to their user-friendly visual environments suitable for beginner programmers. Meanwhile, physical computing is a pedagogical approach known to help students build a concrete understand of abstract concepts through hands-on physical media. An integration of blocks programming with physical computing has become increasingly popular in introductory computing classrooms, especially for elementary and middle school students. This study aims to provide a better understanding of how well young students learn computing concepts, both hardware and software related, through blocks languages and hands-on computing media. In a summer camp for 5-7th graders, Microsoft MakeCode blocks language is used in conjunction with Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, an all-in-one hobbyist board with embedded sensors, LEDs and USB support. A source code analysis of the students’ creative project indicates students are successful in learning how to manipulate hardware components as well how to apply basic software concepts such as events and simple loops in their program. Nonetheless, they still have a weak grasp of advanced software concepts. Blocks languages integrated with physical computing makes hardware programming more accessible, but this approach does not seem to mitigate the difficulty of learning abstract programming concepts for young students.