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The Beginner Programming Tools that Combine Blocks and Code Best for Teens According to Study

In recent years, block-based programming has increasingly become the gateway of many minors in the field of programming. And precisely this topic has been the axis around which one of the latest webinars on computer education promoted by the Raspberry Pi Foundation has revolved.

In this webinar, the University of Maryland professor David Weintrop presented the results of the research he is carrying out on the advantages and disadvantages of starting computing for underage students using block-based tools, like Scratch (the latter widely used by the foundation itself on its projects page).

Weintrop has analyzed for this from the students' own perception to the comparison of the level of preparation of the students initiated by this method versus those who have been trained only in traditional code-based programming.


Hybrid environment example.

Weintrop warns in his talk, first of all, that not all block-based programming is limited to Scratch (also mentions Snap !, Blocky, MIT App Inventor, or Pencil Code).

And, secondly, that some of these environments, such as the aforementioned Pencil Code (developed by Weintrop himself) truly offer a hybrid environment, which allows the student to appreciate the equivalence between the use of blocks and code, thus facilitating the understanding of the syntax of the second.

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Study results

The researcher carried out a study with 90 students between 14 and 16 years old for 15 weeks in various high schools in the US, trying to unravel how the use of one or other tools affects.

  • First phase of the study (5 weeks): The same learning objectives were established for all groups, but they were divided into three groups, depending on whether they used blocks, code or mixed. At the end of the 5 weeks, the students were given an assessment of their learning outcomes, and were asked questions about their attitudes towards programming.

  • Second phase (10 weeks): All students were taught Java, and then the test and attitude questions were repeated.

In the first round of tests, the results showed that students who had used block-based programming scored higher scores on your outcome evaluation, while in the final evaluation (after 15 weeks) the scores of all groups turned out to be quite similar.

Regarding the perception of the students themselves, it was shown that the perception of the group that resorted to the blocks offered very positive responses after the first phase, and less positive after the second... precisely the opposite trend to that observed in the case of those trained in code programming.

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But nevertheless, the group that used hybrid tools showed more positive trends than the second group in the first sentence, and the trend of responses during the second remained positive. As the Raspberry Pi Foundation summarizes, "Taking into account both evaluation criteria, the 'hybrid group' showed the best results in the study."

"It seems that students can benefit from different tools at different times, so a dual-mode environment can be very helpful."

However, the foundation's own article indicates that "more research is needed", since it is necessary to assess the evolution of programming skills in the long term, and to consider what weight pedagogical methods have in this.

Furthermore, these results cannot be generalized beyond the field of ages studied: that is, from the adolescents, who were already outside the age range for which block programming was originally conceived.