Tangible Programming in Early Childhood: Revisiting Developmental Assumptions Through New Technologies

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This is a challenging time for early childhood education (K-2). On the one hand, there is increasing, federally-mandated pressure placed on the education of young children, particularly in the fields of math, science, engineering, and technology. On the other hand, there is growing concern to respect the developmental capabilities of young children when presenting such content. This interdisciplinary project focuses on computer programming and robotics with the goal of understanding what is developmentally appropriate for young children in light of novel tangible user interface techniques that provide more age-appropriate access to technology. That is, rather than using a mouse of a keyboard to write programs to control robots, children instead construct programs by connecting smart wooden blocks shaped like jigsaw puzzle pieces. A computer-based vision system “reads” the blocks and allows children to either manipulate them on the screen or to continue working in a tangible way. This approach creates a unique opportunity to separate the intellectual act of computer programming from the confounding factors of graphical interfaces and complex mechanical constructions. In turn, it provides a means to better understand the developmental capabilities of young children with respect to learning about computer programming and robotics.


Pre-K and kindergarten classrooms in the Boston area of Massachusetts.

Research Design: 

This is a longitudinal and cross-sectional study designed to generate descriptive [case study, design research, ethnography, observational] evidence. This project collects original data through diaries/journals/records kept by study subjects; observation [personal, videographic] assessments of learning or achievement tests; and survey research [structured and semi-structured in-person interviews].

Publications & Presentations: 

For project publications, please visit the project website at http://ase.tufts.edu/devtech/papers.html.

Other Products: 

At the conclusion of this project, new curricula will be developed as well as professional development courses.