My PhD: abstraction in primary Computing

Jane Waite: CAS London Project Manager, based at King’s College London, has had a poster accepted at WiPSCE 2016. Jane writes:

I recently started a part time PhD in the field of Computer Science and Education at Queen Mary University of London; my supervisors are Paul Cuzon and William Marsh at QMUL and Sue Sentance at King’s College London.  Supported by Sue, Paul and William I submitted my first poster paper to WiPSCE and was delighted to be accepted. The abstract is shown below.

Abstraction and common classroom activities.

In popularizing computational thinking, Wing notes that  ‘abstraction is described as underlying computational thinking and  computational thinking is described as fundamental to computing.’ Emerging curricular now require educators to incorporate  computational thinking and abstraction into their teaching. Many refer to Piaget’s work as evidence of an age-related ceiling preventing younger pupils from being able to abstract. However, more recent evidence suggests that pupils use elements of  abstraction in their general process of learning, and that the skill of abstraction can be explicitly taught. We draw on personal classroom experience to illustrate the points made in the literature. Common classroom activities such as using labelled diagrams, concept maps and storyboards are aligned to features of abstraction. We argue that abstraction can and should be taught to young pupils.

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I am now working on the next phase of my project, a small scale classroom study of how teachers and pupils view and use planning and design in programming projects and other subjects.

As well as undertaking my PhD, I am also working part-time for KCL as the project manager for the Computing At School London (CAS London) project. This is a Department for Education funded initiative, whereby ten universities across England have been allocated the role of coordinating Computing At School activities in their region. KCL and QMUL, following a competitive bidding process, were successfully allocated the contract for the next two years for London. Our remit is to support schools as they deliver the computing curriculum, helping facilitate collaboration and promoting a coordinated provision of CPD through our network of CAS master teachers, hubs and lead schools.

My area of PhD study closely overlaps with my work, as I support our local teachers through provision of training and networking events in computer science education.

If you would like to find out more about my research or are interested in collaborating in this area, please do get in touch. I am in fact looking for help as I would like to better understand the role of planning in writing, such as the effectiveness of Talk for Writing, and the history of how planning has been taught in Literacy. If you have expertise or interest in this area I would be indebted for some pointers to relevant literature. I can be contacted at jane.waite@kcl.ac.uk