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07 September 2017

Blog: King's Researchers Trial New School Coding System

Dr Sue Sentance, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science Education, explains PRIMM, a new approach to teaching the coders of the future developed here at King's.

Sr Sue Sentance
Sr Sue Sentance

King’s College London is a major centre of computing education, building the capacity of schoolteachers to teach vital programming skills. Here Sue Sentance, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science Education, explains PRIMM, the custom-developed approach to teaching programming that is now open to participants for its second pilot. Read the full version of the blog here.

PRIMM (Predict Run Investigate Modify Make) is an approach that can help teachers structure lessons in programming.  It is based on research into the learning of programming but combines different areas. Our overall interpretation of the research is that teaching programming requires a blended approach using a range of strategies. 

We designed PRIMM because we recognised, from our own teaching and others’ research, that learners need much more support to understand programming concepts.  This means that strategies are needed that 'scaffold' the learning and also promote discussion about what is going on in the programs.  Working in pairs can also provide students with mutual support which is a form of scaffolding, as well as promoting discussion and an articulation of the problems, around the code.

Copying code in from a worksheet does not give us any indication that a student understands what they are typing in. At the other extreme, tinkering or exploring without guidance can be fun, but without an understanding of the concepts can lead to frustration. PRIMM is an approach that combines strategies in between these extremes include running and testing code, predicting outcomes of code, tracing code, annotation of code, modifying code.

Testing the effectiveness of PRIMM in the classroom

In June/July 2017, 6 secondary teachers tried out PRIMM in the classroom using specially designed materials which they were free to adapt for their own classrooms.  The interview data and journals that we gathered from the teachers indicated that our small set of teachers found the PRIMM approach very effective in helping them to structure their teaching of programming, and that the approach supported those who found programming difficult as well as providing opportunities for those to go further who had “got it”. In our small sample teachers were particularly pleased that this approach helped students to understand how functions worked.

We aim to recruit 20 teachers for a larger scale, more rigorous attempt at this pilot project starting in October and running until February/March. We are using the same methodology as for the first pilot but we are designing more flexible materials to accompany the PRIMM lessons and will provide tests before and after the intervention. Ideally we would like to trial PRIMM with groups of learners that have been taught some programming before, but who have struggled with a secure understanding of the concepts. Interested teachers can sign up here.

Read more at the Computing At School (CAS) London website