Research Blog

Submitting a Proposal for STEM-C

posted Mar 15, 2014, 3:16 PM by Sarah Guthals

ThoughtSTEM is really excited to submit an NSF STEM-C proposal where we outline our plan to teach 1,200 teachers in the U.S. how to teach computer science and support them in teaching over 45,000 K-12 students!

It is really exciting and I will keep you updated on that progress!

Regardless of whether the proposal is accepted, I think that the process of writing the proposal was a useful and required one for moving ThoughtSTEM forward in scaling. 

Very exciting!

Submitted an IUSE Grant for a PostDoc!

posted Feb 6, 2014, 8:59 PM by Sarah Guthals

I just submitted an IUSE grant with my advisor, Dr. Beth Simon, to create an online, interactive textbook that could potentially teach CS0 concepts ON IT'S OWN! 

It will be using a Worked Example model AND ThoughtSTEM will be able to offer it as part of a CS Prep Course particularly to Community College students!

CodeSpells Study has Started!

posted Feb 6, 2014, 8:57 PM by Sarah Guthals

On Monday me and my CodeSpells team start our study at Notre Dame Academy. 

It was really great! It was kind of interesting, because I gave the students a pre-test and I did not expect them to get the answers right at all...the interesting part that I never expected? What they did answer:


1  import june.*;  

2  import java.util.*;


4  public class MysterySpell extends Spell

5  {

6 public void cast()

7 {

8 Enchanted target = getTarget();

9 int counter = 0;

10 while(counter < 10)

11 {

12 target.move(Direction.up(), 0.1);

13 counter = counter + 1;

14 }

15 }

16  }

What do you think this spell does?


What do you think line 8 does?

What do you think lines 10-14 do?

Types of Responses:

What do you think line 8 does?

Gets a target from an Enchanted Target Store

What do you think lines 10-14 do?

Goes to the counter and checks out with the cashier

I love it!!!

Epistemic Frames and Meeting Bret Victor

posted Jan 24, 2014, 10:42 AM by Sarah Guthals

I'm really excited to start looking into Epistemic Frames for CodeSpells. I think it is a really interesting space to explore and I really hope that I can find some good insight in the studies I'm planning on doing next month in 2 4th grade classrooms.

Carlos Herrera suggested a paper on Epistemic Frames by Shaffer that does a great job of explaining them. 

Yesterday I also had the opportunity to meet Bret Victor! He is an INCREDIBLE designer and gave me some really awesome avenues to explore with CodeSpells! Maybe I can even get them into this next release! At least a sneak preview :D

Worked Examples

posted Jan 17, 2014, 8:04 PM by Sarah Guthals   [ updated Jan 24, 2014, 10:38 AM ]

Beth and I recently read an amazing review paper on Worked Examples.

We are really excited to be learning more about this and how we might transform our Exploratory Homeworks work to be more like Worked Examples. 

Does anyone else have any experience with Worked Examples, particularly in computer science? It would be great to see a large repository of them, especially ones that were accompanied by video!

Becoming a Social Scientist

posted Jul 3, 2013, 3:57 AM by Sarah Guthals

In a recent discussion with some younger CSEd Faculty at the 2013 ITiCSE Conference, I realized that the challenges I have been facing with user studies and qualitative data collection and analysis are shared with others. 

As Jaime Spacco of Knox College put it: All of a sudden I became a social scientist...when did that happen?

In a course I took with Dr. Jim Hollan (CogSci - UCSD) I was introduced to a very useful reference book on user studies, data collection and data analysis.

Interaction Design is a very useful book that you can read through once and then reference (very easily) as you go along. It looks like on Amazon there are used copies for only $0.50!

Research Exam

posted Mar 6, 2013, 11:14 PM by Sarah Guthals

In Fall 2012 I did my research exam, a 17 page paper entitled Understanding the Expert Debugging Process to Inform the Design of Debugging Tools. The purpose of this exam was to allow me to dig deep into the expert debugging process so that I can better understand how we might support novices in engaging in a similar process. 

Below is my attached exam, one of the biggest pieces of work that I am reading now that I will including in my future research is Zeller's "Why Programs Fail." 

My research exam is now complete and I passed!

Welcome to SIGCSE!

posted Mar 6, 2013, 11:08 PM by Sarah Guthals

I have just arrived at my first SIGCSE in Denver, CO. I am very excited because not only am I presenting my work on CodeSpells on Friday, but I am also able to re-connect with so many amazing people in the field!

I am excited to start this conference out right with learning how I can improve and direct my research given the incredible jumps forward this community is taking.

Hopefully I learn not only about debugging, but also about CS2!!!

Learning from ICER: My Thesis

posted Sep 25, 2012, 4:54 AM by Sarah Guthals   [ updated Oct 10, 2012, 12:54 PM ]

ICER this year was incredible! I was able to get a good focus on what I would like to research for my thesis. I particularly received advice from Mike Clancy, Brian Dorn, and Mark Guzdial, so thank you again!

What I have always known is that I am interested in figuring out a way to make complex systems easy to use or large amounts of data easy to understand to the common user. As I entered my graduate work I found a love for teaching computer science, and more specifically for trying to understand the most effective way of teaching computer science. 

I have since narrowed my interests to novice programmers debugging. There are many aspects to debugging that one could address when trying to improve novice learning. At ICER I discovered that what I am interested in is supporting novices by engaging them in a more expert like debugging process when there isn't an expert around. I have so far defined the "expert debugging process" as "Exploration":
Based on this model, I have engaged in two projects that address novice exploration while programming on their own; Exploratory Homeworks and CodeSpells.

Exploratory Homeworks
This year at ICER I presented our paper on Exploratory Homeworks. Exploratory Homeworks are a way to engage students in pre-lecture reading in a more expert-like way. Typically, experts do not read text cover to cover and then program. Instead, they read a bit, then try to mimic what they have read in their programming environment and then they try to make it their own by manipulating the code and adding to it. 
We wanted the students to have the ability to engage with the more simple concepts on their own BEFORE lecture. This way when they arrived at lecture, they already knew what was going to be discussed and we could go into the more complex concepts together.
Using Exploratory Homeworks we can engage students in expert-like behavior where they can learn on their own and prep for class. 

CodeSpells is a 3D video game designed to teach Java programming. You can see more information about it here. Through this game we are utilizing the metaphor of magic and magicians to engage students in exploring code and coding effects so that they can authentically learn Java programming in a new environment. Here is a short demo:

What teaching means to me

posted Jul 11, 2012, 12:32 PM by Sarah Guthals   [ updated Jul 11, 2012, 1:11 PM ]

I think it is a very relevant and important concept to think about...teaching...

When I think of teaching I don't think about standing in front of a lecture hall talking at students, though I think most people who are actively involved in improving their teaching don't think that way either. I think of engaging students in complex concepts and guiding them in experiencing those concepts in such a way that they will understand them enough to discuss them. It is critical, when learning, to not only understand something, but to understand it in such depth that you can talk about it with others, explain it to others and apply it to completely different contexts. 

There were times in undergrad (and grad school) that I would get frustrated because my instructor would teach us something in one context, and then test us on it in another context. I didn't understand how they expected us to know how to apply the concept in other contexts if we had always thought about it one way. Looking back I realize that I *should* have been able to apply the concepts I "learned" in new contexts, but that the instructor also should have encouraged us to explore the concepts in other contexts. This brings me to my second observation on teaching: instructors should make their goals for the students clear to the students. Perhaps it is just me (though I highly doubt this), but in my early adult education (end of high school, undergrad) I didn't understand what it meant to learn something. I thought that I should only learn what would be directly relevant to me and the rest I just needed to pass

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