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On the cognitive effects of learning computer programming (1983) [pdf] (stanford.edu)
66 points by lainon 162 days ago | hide | past | web | 6 comments | favorite



This paper is over 30 years old. Are there any recent studies on how learning to programs changes the way people think? I assumed in my high school teaching, that any student can learn the beginnings of algorithmic thinking and be able to write interesting, if simple, programs. Since two semester courses (one in basic computing and office software; the other a broader computer "fluency" course) were required for graduation, it would be nice to have evidence that there are positive cognitive changes that accompany new programming skills.


Pea & Kurland's basic idea is still correct. They were arguing against the notion that learning Logo programming would exercise some generic intelligence 'muscle' that would benefit students in other areas. Instead, what later research demonstrated was that cognition is contextually bound (see research on situated cognition and situated learning and embodied cognition).

In the case of teaching programming skills - that is the main goal, for students to learn how to program and improve their computational thinking skills. Just like when teaching writing skills, reading skills, speaking skills, time management skills, etc.

One of the biggest problems is we try to teach these skills without context. You learn some procedure or concept and you're supposed to just memorize it and apply it sometime later. Instead, we should start with the context. Making a game, for example, or creating an app or website that serves some relevant purpose or solves some real-world problem. This is the idea behind problem-based learning, service learning, and the like. It also can be more effective to teaching programming in the context of other school topics, like math, science, etc. Here's one example: https://edsource.org/2016/teaching-math-with-computer-progra...

And here are a couple of relatively recently summaries of some research in computer science education, but there's a whole field of research on the topic, with conferences and journals and books every year. https://computinged.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/blog-post-999-r... http://cra.org/ccc/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/01/CSEdRe...


How much have human brains changed in the past 30 years?


Rather, how much have cognitive sciences evolved in the past 30 years?


summarizing a note from david nolen that i though was apt and I agree with, was that programmers tend to be very good problem solvers once given a problem, but tend to neglect the task of finding good problems in the first place, or dealing with goal-finding in ambiguous situations.


This is the reason that Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs isn't really a course about programming but rather one about how to think about problems and their solutions. It does use programming as a tool in that process.




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