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BBL: To block or not to block: Understanding the effects of programming language representation in high school computer science classrooms

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This week’s HCIL Brown Bag Lunch (BBL) will feature Dr. David Weintrop from University of Maryland, College Park. His talk is titled: To block or not to block: Understanding the effects of programming language representation in high school computer science classrooms.


Time: 09/07 (Thursday) from 12:30-1:30pm
Place: HCIL (2105 Hornbake, South Wing)
Lunch: Free pizza!


In the last few years, Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco have all announced major initiatives to bring computer science classes and computational thinking into every high school in their cities – with countless other smaller school districts following suit. Having made these commitments, attention now shifts towards how best to teach computer science to diverse populations of high school students who grew up in the age of smart phones, iPads, and Facebook. An increasingly popular strategy being employed is the use of graphical, block-based programming environments like Scratch, Blockly, and Alice. While these environments have been found to be effective at broadening participation with younger learners, open questions remain about their suitability in high school contexts. In this talk, I will present findings from a two-year classroom study looking at how the design of introductory programming environments affects learners’ emerging understandings of computer science concepts and their perceptions of the field of computer science. I will also discuss the affordances of block-based programming environments relative to more conventional text-based alternatives.


David Weintrop is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teaching & Learning, Policy & Leadership in the College of Education with a joint appointment in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. His research focuses on the design, implementation, and evaluation of accessible and engaging computational learning environments. He is also interested in the use of technological tools in supporting exploration and expression across diverse contexts including STEM classrooms and informal spaces. His work lies at the intersection of human-computer interaction, design, and the Learning Sciences. David has a Ph.D. in the Learning Sciences from Northwestern University and a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan. He spent one year as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago studying computer science learning in elementary classrooms prior to joining the faculty at the University of Maryland. Before starting his academic career, he spent five years working as a software developer at a pair of start-ups in Chicago.