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Practitioner Enquiry 2022

Does enforcing "3 Before Me" encourage inquiry-based learning and improve resilience and initiative in S1 and S2 Computing?

In an ever-changing world where technology is constantly advancing, the importance of computing and IT skills is becoming of paramount importance. Yet many of Scotland's younger population are still lacking simple skills and resilience that were once there. Why is this?

As technology keeps getting more and more advanced so too do the users. Take skeuomorphic designs that were commonplace even as late as the early 2010s - they have since been ditched for flatter, less descriptive interface designs. By moving this way, the software aims to move away from being representative of the real world to be representative of the action that is taken on the computer. The issue with this design shift is that it also brings about about a learning curve, which if the person didn’t experience the shift personally, can lead to a lack of understanding.

A typical example of this is the use of the floppy disk icon as representing the save function in many software packages.

Many children have become accustomed to thinking that using a desktop computer is old-fashioned and see no benefit in using them. This is partly due to advances in smartphone technology but also due to the lack of computing resources at home (many families have tablets and a single laptop computer).

Children are often given instructions on what to do in a step-by-step process to help them learn, but sometimes step-by-step isn't the right way for one child to learn.

What change has caused this?

Over the years the population have been getting more and more computer-literate and the need for skeuomorphic designs has slowly diminished. Skeuomorphic designs were one of the "very useful concepts in design" (Interaction Design Foundation, 2020) and it was primarily designed to "help users through learning curves". Since the release of iOS 7.0 in 2012, almost all device interfaces have followed the simpler, albeit more difficult to understand, flat-design.

One of the other notable changes to computer software was the move from cluttered, yet easy to understand, menus to tabbed interfaces such as Microsoft's Ribbon UI. Again, this presents challenges for new users and leads to steeper learning curves (Dostál, 2010).

On top of all of that, we have experience the COVID pandemic, which has mean a lot of children haven't had the exposure to computing-based learning for years. As a result, a lot of those pupils will have been using tablet computers to access their work, and when it doesn't work, simply give up. Had this been in a classroom environment, this wouldn't have been an option. This has led to a lack of resilience in the individuals that we teach.

What this enquiry is

In this enquiry, I intend to study how well 3 Before Me strategies work when trying to encourage pupils to research for themselves before asking the teacher. In 3 Before Me, pupils are expected to first of all check the instructions they have been given, then ask a friend for help, then check online resources before finally asking the teacher.

This will improve resilience but also the pupil's ability to research an answer for themselves.

The premise for this research came from Gordon and Brayshaw's research into how inquiry and discovery-based learning can be applied within a Higher Education setting. This research lends itself to a science-based subject like computer science well. From a personal point of view, I am a self-taught programmer for the most part, and inquiry-based learning was what I did to teach myself.

What is inquiry-based learning?

Inquiry-based learning focuses more on pupils figuring out things for themselves. In this case, it is all about using the resources available to inform them and help them to gain an understanding of what they wish to achieve. With inquiry-based learning "students are typically presented with a task to do and have to discover for themselves". What we seek to achieve here is encouraging pupils to 'think for themselves' and develop their own inquiry skills as well as resilience.

The result of this form of learning is that pupils will develop their own understanding of what is happening by experimenting with different features and technologies and using each other as resources too. According to Gordon and Brayshaw, "if they discover a concept for themselves they will have a better understanding of the thing being learnt rather than having third party model foisted upon them".

Inquiry-based learning isn't always the perfect model alone, and discussion arises around "how-open ended discovery learning can be and whether it is a good idea simply to abandon users to fate". As a result, a "mixed paradigm" approach with the main emphasis still on self-learning with a teacher continuing to oversee the learning process (Elsom-Cook, 1990).

Inquiry-based learning is particularly suited to "electronic learning environments" (Pedaste et al.) that aren't as structured as a normal lesson would be. The idea is that pupils will lead their own learning rather than depending on a teacher. This can be broken down into several stages that Pedaste et al. describe as:

  • Orientation - the idea of introducing an idea or piece of research/theory.
  • Conceptualisation - the process of generating a rough idea
  • Investigation - the process of researching existing literature and concepts to establish a better understanding before proceeding to build
  • Discussion - the stage of discussing the newly obtained knowledge and seeing what other ideas other people have

Within a computer science context

Computer science lends itself to the concept of inquiry-based learning. For example, a very obvious case with this is when learning to write Python code a pupil may choose to see how to do something by looking at code that performs a similar task. They then try to understand what the code is actually doing before going and attempting to write the code themselves. This is actually commonly been carried out by teachers in Higher Education institutes, so why has it not carried over to secondary-level education?

Within the domain of computer science, the Discussion step discussed by Pedaste et al. could be considered the same as the Development stage, particularly when talking about computer programming.

3 Before Me

3 Before Me allows for inquiry-based learning to take place rather than simply relying on the teacher for help. It encourages the pupils to check the instructions over and over again, ask each other (something I've been trying to encourage more and more in my classes), and to research the Internet. All of this leads to more resilience.

How this enquiry will be carried out

This enquiry will focus on two areas:

  • Learning through doing and discovery (inquiry-based learning)
  • Learning through instruction (teacher-led learning)

The comparison will be based on how many pupils complete the work and how well the work is completed. Further to this, the number of questions or assistance requests will be counted to see whether pupils learning on their own requires less teacher intervention than those who follow instructions.

Four periods will be allocated to this with two classes (both S1 and similar levels). The first two classes will be with the usual support in class and help from the teacher as before, but the other two classes will enforce 3 Before Me rules within the class.

The number of questions will be counted in each class that are directed at the teacher.

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