Mentions of goals and subgoals in different activities of the purpose-first programming curriculum – UROP Spring Symposium 2021

Mentions of goals and subgoals in different activities of the purpose-first programming curriculum

Helen Zhu


Pronouns: she/her/hers

Research Mentor(s): Barbara Ericson, Assistant Professor
Research Mentor School/College/Department: Computing, School of Information
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 6 (4pm-4:50pm)
Breakout Room: Room 4
Presenter: 4

Event Link


Over the last few years, more and more students who do not major in computer science or plan to become a programmer take computer science classes. Furthermore, the number of conversational programmers and end-user programmers is growing. Traditional learning and teaching of computer science focuses on how code works, using activities like code tracing. However, some novices have a preference for learning code applications rather than how it works including the syntax and logic behind it. Therefore, they have less motivation to learn with the traditional code tracing way. The Ph.D. student I worked with created a “purpose-first” curriculum for web scraping with an emphasis on goals/plans and subgoals. It was evaluated by conducting think aloud sessions with novice programmers who plan to become conversational programmers or end-user programmers. The interviews were qualitatively coded using thematic analysis. I analyzed the think aloud session transcripts to identify uses of goals and subgoals. We found that participants mainly used goals and subgoals to complete the writing activities, while they didn’t use them as much in debugging and explanation activities. Moreover, some participants mentioned goals and subgoals when they described their thought processes, while others mentioned code, depending on their previous experiences with programming. It turns out that students found purpose-first programming motivating and the students able to solve problems using plans with goals and subgoals.

Authors: Kathryn Cunningham, Helen Zhu, Barbara Ericson, Rahul Agrawal Bejarano, Mark Guzdial
Research Method: Qualitative Study

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