skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, June 13 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, June 14 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Effect of Implementing Subgoals in's Intro to Programming Unit in Computer Science Principles
The subgoal learning framework has improved performance for novice programmers in higher education, but it has only started to be applied and studied in K-12 (primary/secondary). Programming education in K-12 is growing, and many international initiatives are attempting to increase participation, including curricular initiatives like Computer Science Principles and non-profit organizations like Given that subgoal learning is designed to help students with no prior knowledge, we designed and implemented subgoals in the introduction to programming unit in's Computer Science Principles course. The redesigned unit includes subgoal-oriented instruction and subgoal-themed pre-written comments that students could add to their programming activities. To evaluate efficacy, we compared behaviors and performance of students who received the redesigned subgoal unit to those receiving the original unit. We found that students who learned with subgoals performed better on problem-solving questions but not knowledge-based questions and wrote more in open-ended response questions, including a practice Performance Task for the AP exam. Moreover, at least one-third of subgoal students continued to use the subgoal comments after the subgoal-oriented instruction had been faded, suggesting that they found them useful. Survey data from the teachers suggested that students who struggled with the concepts found the subgoals most useful. Implications for future designs are discussed.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
ACM Transactions on Computing Education
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1 to 24
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Subgoal learning has improved student problem-solving performance in programming, but it has been tested for only one-to-two hours of instruction at a time. Our work pioneers implementing subgoal learning throughout an entire introductory programming course. In this paper we discuss the protocol that we used to identify subgoals for core programming procedures, present the subgoal labels created for the course, and outline the subgoal-labeled instructional materials that were designed for a Java-based course. To examine the effect of subgoal labeled materials on student performance in the course, we compared quiz and exam grades between students who learned using subgoal labels and those who learned using conventional materials. Initial results indicate that learning with subgoals improves performance on early applications of concepts. Moreover, variance in performance was lower and persistence in the course was higher for students who learned with subgoals compared to those who learned with conventional materials, suggesting that learning with subgoal labels may uniquely benefit students who would normally receive low grades or dropout of the course. 
    more » « less
  2. null (Ed.)
    To meet the rising demand for computer science (CS) courses, K-12 educators need to be prepared to teach introductory concepts and skills in courses such as Computer Science Principles (CSP), which takes a breadth-first approach to CS and includes topics beyond programming such as data, impacts of computing, and networks. Educators are now also being asked to teach more advanced concepts in courses such as the College Board's Advanced Placement Computer Science A (CSA) course, which focuses on advanced programming using Java and includes topics such as objects, inheritance, arrays, and recursion. Traditional CSA curricula have not used content or pedagogy designed to engage a broad range of learners and support their success. Unlike CSP, which is attracting more underrepresented students to computing as it was designed, CSA continues to enroll mostly male, white, and Asian students [College Board 2019, Ericson 2020, Sax 2020]. In order to expand CS education opportunities, it is crucial that students have an engaging experience in CSA similar to CSP. Well-designed differentiated professional development (PD) that focuses on content and pedagogy is necessary to meet individual teacher needs, to successfully build teacher skills and confidence to teach CSA, and to improve engagement with students [Darling-Hammond 2017]. It is critical that as more CS opportunities and courses are developed, teachers remain engaged with their own learning in order to build their content knowledge and refine their teaching practice [CSTA 2020]. CSAwesome, developed and piloted in 2019, offers a College Board endorsed AP CSA curriculum and PD focused on supporting the transition of teachers and students from CSP to CSA. This poster presents preliminary findings aimed at exploring the supports and challenges new-to-CSA high school level educators face when transitioning from teaching an introductory, breadth-first course such as CSP to teaching the more challenging, programming-focused CSA course. Five teachers who completed the online CSAwesome summer 2020 PD completed interviews in spring 2021. The project employed an inductive coding scheme to analyze interview transcriptions and qualitative notes from teachers about their experiences learning, teaching, and implementing CSP and CSA curricula. Initial findings suggest that teachers’ experience in the CSAwesome PD may improve their confidence in teaching CSA, ability to effectively use inclusive teaching practices, ability to empathize with their students, problem-solving skills, and motivation to persist when faced with challenges and difficulties. Teachers noted how the CSAwesome PD provided them with a student perspective and increased feelings of empathy. Participants spoke about the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on their own learning, student learning, and teaching style. Teachers enter the PD with many different backgrounds, CS experience levels, and strengths, however, new-to-CSA teachers require further PD on content and pedagogy to transition between CSP and CSA. Initial results suggest that the CSAwesome PD may have an impact on long-term teacher development as new-to-CSA teachers who participated indicated a positive impact on their teaching practices, ideologies, and pedagogies. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    Subgoal labels are function-based instructional explanations that describe the problem-solving steps to the learner, highlighting the solution process. There is strong evidence that the use of subgoal labels within worked examples improves student learning in other STEM fields. Initial research shows that using subgoal labels within computer science improves student learning, but this has only been tested using a single programming concept (indefinite loops) with text-based programming languages. The proposers are currently expanding subgoal labels to the main programming concepts taught in an introductory programming course using an imperative programming language. In this BOF we seek to uncover tacit knowledge that programming instructors have in order to develop instructional materials that bridge the gap between students, who are CS novices, and instructors, who are CS experts, to improve learning for students who are under-prepared for or struggle in CS1. We will be seeking feedback on the selection of programming topics to be covered, the defined subgoals for those topics and the worked examples created for instructional purposes. 
    more » « less
  4. Robotics has emerged as one of the most popular subjects in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for students in elementary, middle, and high schools, providing them with an opportunity to gain knowledge of engineering and technology. In recent years, flying robots (or drones) have also gained popularity as teaching tool to impart the fundamentals of computer programming to high school students. However, despite completing the programming course, students may still lack an understanding of the working principle of drones. This paper proposes an approach to teach students the basic principles of drone aeronautics through laboratory programming. This course was designed by professors from Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology for high school students who work on after-school and weekend programs during the school year or summer. In early 2021, the college applied for and was approved to offer a certificate program in UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) Designs, Applications, and Operations to college students by the Education Department of New York State. Later that year, the college also received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to provide tuition-free early higher education for high school students, allowing them to complete the majority of the credits in the UAS certificate program while still enrolled in high school. The program aims to equip students with the hands-on skills necessary for successful careers as versatile engineers and technicians. Most of the courses in the certificate program are introductory or application-oriented, such as Introduction to Drones, Drone Law, Part 107 License, or Fundamentals of Land Surveying and Photogrammetry. However, one of the courses, Introduction to Drone Aeronautics, is more focused on the theory of drone flight and control. Organizing the lectures and laboratory of the course for high school students who are interested in pursuing the certificate can be a challenge. To create the Introduction to Drone Aeronautics course, a variety of school courses and online resources were examined. After careful consideration, the Robolink Co-drone [1] was chosen as the experimental platform for students to study drone flight, and control and stabilize a drone. However, developing a set of comprehensible lectures proved to be a difficult task. Based on the requirements of the certificate program, the lectures were designed to cover the following topics: (a) an overview of fundamentals of drone flight principles, including the forces acting on a drone such as lift, weight, drag, and thrust, as well as the selection of on-board components and trade-offs for proper payload and force balance; (b) an introduction to the proportional-integral-directive (PID) controller and its role in stabilizing a drone and reducing steady-state errors; (c) an explanation of the forces acting on a drone in different coordinates, along with coordinate transformations; and (d) an opportunity for students to examine the dynamic model of a 3D quadcopter with control parameters, but do not require them to derive the 3D drone dynamic equations. In the future, the course can be improved to cater to the diverse learning needs of the students. More interactive and accessible tools can be developed to help different types of students understand drone aeronautics. For instance, some students may prefer to apply mathematical skills to derive results, while others may find it easier to comprehend the stable flight of a drone by visualizing the continuous changes in forces and balances resulting from the control of DC motor speeds. Despite the differences in students’ mathematical abilities, the course has helped high school students appreciate that mathematics is a powerful tool for solving complex problems in the real world, rather than just a subject of abstract numbers. 
    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    Today’s classrooms are remarkably different from those of yesteryear. In place of individual students responding to the teacher from neat rows of desks, one more typically finds students working in groups on projects, with a teacher circulating among groups. AI applications in learning have been slow to catch up, with most available technologies focusing on personalizing or adapting instruction to learners as isolated individuals. Meanwhile, an established science of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning has come to prominence, with clear implications for how collaborative learning could best be supported. In this contribution, I will consider how intelligence augmentation could evolve to support collaborative learning as well as three signature challenges of this work that could drive AI forward. In conceptualizing collaborative learning, Kirschner and Erkens (2013) provide a useful 3x3 framework in which there are three aspects of learning (cognitive, social and motivational), three levels (community, group/team, and individual) and three kinds of pedagogical supports (discourse-oriented, representation-oriented, and process-oriented). As they engage in this multiply complex space, teachers and learners are both learning to collaborate and collaborating to learn. Further, questions of equity arise as we consider who is able to participate and in which ways. Overall, this analysis helps us see the complexity of today’s classrooms and within this complexity, the opportunities for augmentation or “assistance to become important and even essential. An overarching design concept has emerged in the past 5 years in response to this complexity, the idea of intelligent augmentation for “orchestrating” classrooms (Dillenbourg, et al, 2013). As a metaphor, orchestration can suggest the need for a coordinated performance among many agents who are each playing different roles or voicing different ideas. Practically speaking, orchestration suggests that “intelligence augmentation” could help many smaller things go well, and in doing so, could enable the overall intention of the learning experience to succeed. Those smaller things could include helping the teacher stay aware of students or groups who need attention, supporting formation of groups or transitions from one activity to the next, facilitating productive social interactions in groups, suggesting learning resources that would support teamwork, and more. A recent panel of AI experts identified orchestration as an overarching concept that is an important focus for near-term research and development for intelligence augmentation (Roschelle, Lester & Fusco, 2020). Tackling this challenging area of collaborative learning could also be beneficial for advancing AI technologies overall. Building AI agents that better understand the social context of human activities has broad importance, as does designing AI agents that can appropriately interact within teamwork. Collaborative learning has trajectory over time, and designing AI systems that support teams not just with a short term recommendation or suggestion but in long-term developmental processes is important. Further, classrooms that are engaged in collaborative learning could become very interesting hybrid environments, with multiple human and AI agents present at once and addressing dual outcome goals of learning to collaborate and collaborating to learn; addressing a hybrid environment like this could lead to developing AI systems that more robustly help many types of realistic human activity. In conclusion, the opportunity to make a societal impact by attending to collaborative learning, the availability of growing science of computer-supported collaborative learning and the need to push new boundaries in AI together suggest collaborative learning as a challenge worth tackling in coming years. 
    more » « less