Losing their marbles : syntax-free programming for assessing problem-solving skills

Fidge, Colin J. & Teague, Donna M. (2009) Losing their marbles : syntax-free programming for assessing problem-solving skills. In Hamilton, Margaret & Clear, Tony (Eds.) Proceedings of the 11th Australasian Computing Education Conference, 20-23 January 2009, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Novice programmers have difficulty developing an algorithmic solution while simultaneously obeying the syntactic constraints of the target programming language. To see how students fare in algorithmic problem solving when not burdened by syntax, we conducted an experiment in which a large class of beginning programmers were required to write a solution to a computational problem in structured English, as if instructing a child, without reference to program code at all. The students produced an unexpectedly wide range of correct, and attempted, solutions, some of which had not occurred to their teachers. We also found that many common programming errors were evident in the natural language algorithms, including failure to ensure loop termination, hardwiring of solutions, failure to properly initialise the computation, and use of unnecessary temporary variables, suggesting that these mistakes are caused by inexperience at thinking algorithmically, rather than difficulties in expressing solutions as program code.

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ID Code: 27651
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional Information: Published as Australian Computer Science Communications, Vol. 31, No. 5
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Introductory computer programming education, HERN, Teaching algorithms and programs
ISBN: 9781920682767
ISSN: 1445-1336
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY (130200) > Science Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy (130212)
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 Australian Computer Society Inc.
Copyright Statement: Copyright © 2009, Australian Computer Society, Inc. This paper appeared at the Eleventh Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE2009), Wellington, New Zealand, January 2009. Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology, Vol. 95. Margaret Hamilton and Tony Clear, Eds. Reproduction for academic, not-for-profit purposes permitted provided this text is included.
Deposited On: 30 Sep 2009 22:43
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2015 06:03

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