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Podcast and video: Marina Bers, “Coding in Early Childhood: Storytelling or Puzzle Solving?”

Professor Marina Bers
Professor Marina Bers, Tufts University

Bers describes current research on a pedagogical approach for early childhood computer science education called “Coding as Another Language”.

Computer programming is an essential skill in the 21st century and new policies and frameworks are in place for preparing students for computer science. Today, the development of new interfaces and block-programming languages, facilitates the teaching of coding and computational thinking starting in kindergarten. However, as new programming languages that are developmentally appropriate emerge, it is not enough to copy models developed for older children, which mostly grew out of traditional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines and instructional practices. In this talk, Prof. Marina Bers describes current research on a  pedagogical approach for early childhood computer science education called “Coding as Another Language” (CAL), grounded on the principle that learning to program involves learning how to use a new language (a symbolic system of representation) for communicative and expressive functions. Due to the critical foundational role of language and literacy in the early years, the teaching of computer science can be augmented by models of literacy instruction. Case studies of young children using either the KIBO robot or the ScratchJr app, designed by Prof Bers, to illustrate the instructional practices of CAL curriculum are presented, as well as novel approaches using fMRI to explore what regions of the brain activate when coding.

Marina Umaschi Bers (tufts.edu/~mbers01) is a professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development and an adjunct professor in the Computer Science Department at Tufts University. She heads the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies research group. Her research involves the design and study of innovative learning technologies to promote children’s positive development. She also developed and serves as director of the graduate certificate program on Early Childhood Technology at Tufts University.

Prof. Bers is passionate about using the power of technology to promote positive development and learning for young children. Bers’ philosophy and theoretical approach  as well as the curriculum and assessment methods can be found in her books “Coding as Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom” (Routledge, 2018); “The Official ScratchJr Book” (2015; No Starch Press); “Designing Digital Experiences for Positive Youth Development: From Playpen to Playground” (2012, Oxford University Press); and “Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom” (2008; Teacher’s College Press).

Prof. Bers loves teaching and in 2016 she received the Outstanding Faculty Contribution to Graduate Student Studies award at Tufts University which recognizes her mentorship.

Elizabeth Borneman
Written by
Elizabeth Borneman

Elizabeth is a designer, writer, and researcher interested in how art, computation, and communication can combine to strengthen community structures, and enhance learning across learner backgrounds. A Florida native, Elizabeth earned her Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology from Georgetown University. There she led a research team in the Culture and Emotions Lab investigating the campus climate for patterns in students’ belonging and social engagement across university locations and situational contexts. She also spent a semester in Cape Town, South Africa as a field researcher studying plant systems and animals’ optimal foraging, ideal free distribution, and territorial defense behaviors.

She most recently worked as a designer and programmer artist in Xaq Pitkow’s Computational Neuroscience lab, where she designed and prototyped interactive graphics and games for teaching and communicating concepts in computational neuroscience and in color vision grounded in visual perception. She’s excited about the power of info-visualization. At MIT, Elizabeth works in the Teaching Systems Lab designing multi-media practice spaces and curriculum for equitable teaching in Computer Science and STEM. Outside of study, Elizabeth likes to go dancing, spend time on the water, and explore outdoors.

Elizabeth Borneman Written by Elizabeth Borneman