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Title: Debugging Pedagogies: Helping Students Learn to Get Unstuck with Physical Computing Systems


  • There is considerable and growing demand to offer computing education to all students at all grade levels. One promising approach, called physical computing, enables a broad range of students to pursue personally relevant design tasks using a combination of hardware and software tools (e.g., using Arduino, micro:bits). Despite this growth, a need remains for supporting typical teachers’ ability to work with students in these computing activities, especially as students engage in troubleshooting the hardware components and debugging software problems that invariably emerge across the programs and materiality of these systems. We will describe how a science teacher supported a class of 25 middle school students to debug as they created physical data display controlled by environmental sensors. We will demonstrate how the teacher positioned herself as a caring collaborator with students as they addressed hardware and software problems. This included modeling and articulating a systematic approach to becoming “unstuck,” based on a systematic set of heuristics she devised. Finally, she positioned her approach as a core computing practice rather than as a means to overcome failure.

Name of research lab: Sumner Lab,