CT Obstacle Course – How to run a collaborative computational thinking activity in your school

Presented by: Taina Lehtimäki

This tutorial/workshop will introduce core computer science concepts in primary and secondary schools through a team-based 45-minute computational thinking (CT) activity, “CT Obstacle Course”. A class set of ready-to-go printed materials for participating teachers will be provided and are also in PDF format on the PACT website.

The aim for creating this activity is to introduce teachers and pupils without formal computer science training to the subject of CT. This activity teaches CT problem-solving skills with an active learning approach and supports learning at various skill levels. In keeping with a well-rounded computer science education, this activity was designed to promote communication and teamwork among pupils and to enhance their logic, mathematical, and problem-solving skills. An opportunity for self-reflection is included at the end.

Step-by-step instructions will be provided on how to run the unplugged activity using 20 Bebras tasks (www.bebras.org) at both primary and secondary level. These posters are ordered by increasing difficulty and are suitable from 3rd class in primary up to 6th year in secondary. It can be run indoors and outdoors, and is completed in groups, promoting teamwork and communication.

In addition to the posters, the resources comprise:
1. A set of answer sheets – one for each group.
2. A class answer sheet for the inter-task activity.
3. A combination lockbox containing prizes for the final activity.

Pupils are encouraged to discuss the tasks within their group, and to come to a consensus for their answer sheets. After each task, the groups also write their answer on a common class answer sheet with their group colour. They are instructed to use a letter size proportional to how confident they are of solving the problem correctly.

Close to the end of the session, the class is brought together for a period of self-reflection to discuss different groups’ approaches/strategies for selected tasks. The solutions are not revealed, however the teacher can provide guidance to the most challenging tasks, as identified by the pupils or lack of consensus in the class answer sheet. This can allow students to engage with different thought processes and strategies.

For the final activity, the entire class discuss their answers and use these to generate an unlock code for a lockbox that contains prizes for the whole class.

This activity has been delivered to over 150 classes and has been continuously refined in response to teacher feedback. Feedback on the CT Obstacle Course activity has been very positive, especially with respect to teamwork, engagement, differentiation, and active learning:

“I loved how all the pupils were engaged and how I could see the working together and communicating in order to solve the problem. They really had to listen to each other.”

“I liked that all of the pupils were really engaged. They were thinking, discussing and active. It worked really well.”

“Gave me some problems that I know the children, whether they be strong or weaker, could all attempt.”

“Hands on activity, active learning, many skills used to solve task”

Presenter Biography:

The PACT team at Maynooth University Department of Computer Science develops computational thinking (CT) resources for teachers at both primary and secondary school level. Our unplugged teaching materials are adapted from our involvement with the International Bebras CT Challenge, through the national organiser, the Irish Computer Society.

PACT teacher workshops and school visits are currently funded by Science Foundation Ireland.