Playing, Constructionism, and Music in Early-Stage Software Engineering Education




constructionism, construction-blocks, music, design, children, LEGO®


Understanding that design involves trade-offs, thinking at multiple levels of abstraction, and considering the cohesion and coupling between sub-components of a larger whole is an important part of software (and other) engineering. It can be challenging to convey such abstract design concepts to novice engineers, especially for materials that are themselves abstract (e.g. software). Such challenges are compounded when teaching at the secondary school stage where students have limited experience of large-scale design problems that motivate the need for abstraction at all. In this paper, we describe a method for introducing these concepts to secondary school students using LEGO® and Raspberry Pi computers, asking them to build musical instruments as an entertaining way of motivating engagement with learning about design through play. The method has been successfully piloted in a series of three classroom sessions and key observations and experiences of using the method are presented.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Nicolas E. Gold, University College London

Associate Professor UCL Computer Science

Ross Purves, University College London

Associate Professor UCL Institute of Education

Evangelos Himonides, University College London

Professor of Technology, Education, and Music UCL Institute of Education


Aaron, S. & Sonic Pi Core Team (2021). Sonic Pi.

Adams, E.A., Dancz, C.L.A., Landis, A.E. (2015, June 14-17). Improving engineering student preparedness, persistence, and diversity through conative understanding [Paper presentation - paper 12320]. 122nd American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Seattle, WA.

Alanazi, H.M.N. (2020). The effects of active recreational math games on math anxiety and performance in primary school children: An experimental study. Multidisciplinary Journal for Education, Social and Technological Sciences 7(1), 89-112.

Ali, M. R. (2006). Imparting effective software engineering education. ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes, 31(4), 1-3.

Atkinson, R. (2018). The pedagogy of primary music teaching: Talking about not talking. Music Education Research, 20(3), 267-276.

Baratè, A., Formica, A., Ludovico, L.A., & Malchiodi. D. (2017, April 21-23). Fostering computational thinking in secondary school through music - an educational experience based on Google Blockly. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Computer Supported Education - Volume 1:CSEDU (pp. 117-124). Porto, Portugal.

Baratè, A., Ludovico, L.A., & Malchiodi, D. (2017). Fostering computational thinking in primary school through a LEGO®-based music notation. Procedia Computer Science, 112, 1334-1344.

Barendsen E., & Steenvoorden T. (2016). Analyzing conceptual content of international informatics curricula for secondary education. In A. Brodnik, & F. Tort (Eds.), Informatics in schools: Improvement of informatics knowledge and perception. ISSEP 2016. Lecture notes in computer science: Vol. 9973. (pp. 14-27). Springer.

Bhattacharya, S., Okunbor, D., Sarami, C., Gillespie, P. and Nickolov, R. (2019). Strengthening computer and mathematical sciences engagement and learning", In K.M. Mack, K. Winter, and M. Soto. (Eds.) Culturally Responsive Strategies for Reforming STEM Higher Education, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 249-258.

Bellettini, C., Lonati, V., Malchiodi, D., Monga, M., Morpurgo, A., Torelli, M., & Zecca, L. (2014). Extracurricular activities for improving the perception of Informatics in secondary schools. In Y. Gülbahar & E. Karataş (Eds.), Informatics in Schools. Teaching and Learning Perspectives (Vol. 8730, pp. 161-172). Springer International Publishing.

Ben-Ari, M. (1998). Constructivism in computer science education. SIGCSE Bulletin, 30(1), 257-261.

Bevan, B., Gutwill, J. P., Petrich, M., & Wilkinson, K. (2015). Learning through STEM-rich tinkering: Findings from a jointly negotiated research project taken up in practice. Science Education 99(1), 98-120.

Brennan, K., & Resnick, M. (2012). New frameworks for studying and assessing the development of computational thinking. Annual American Educational Research Association Meeting.

Bulmer, L. (2009). The use of LEGO® Serious Play in the engineering design classroom. Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA).

Cancian, F.M., & Armstead, C. (2001). Participatory Research. In E.F. Borgatta, & R.J.V. Montgomery (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Sociology (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 2038-2044). Macmillan Reference USA.

Dexter Industries (2019). BrickPi.

Dijkstra, E.W. (1982). EWD 447: On the role of scientific thought. In E.W. Dijkstra, Selected writings on computing: A personal perspective (pp. 60-66). Springer-Verlag.

Doleck, T., Bazelais, P., Lemay, D. J., Saxena, A., & Basnet, R. B. (2017). Algorithmic thinking, cooperativity, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving: Exploring the relationship between computational thinking skills and academic performance. Journal of Computers in Education, 4(4), 355-369.

Franco, C., & Gillanders, C. (2014). Exploring innovative and creative ways of teaching. Multidisciplinary Journal for Education, Social and Technological Sciences 1(2), 53-69.

Ganske, K. (2017). Lesson closure: An important piece of the student learning puzzle. The Reading Teacher, 71(1), 95-100.

Gogus, A (2012). Outcomes of learning. In N. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, (pp. 2534-2539). Springer.

Gunn, C. (2002, June 16-19). Following instructions [Paper presentation]. American Society for Engineering Education 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada.

Hislop, G. W. (2008). Chapter 1 - Software engineering education: Past, present, and future. In H.J.C. Ellis, S.A. Demurjian, & J.F. Naveda (Eds.), Software engineering: Effective teaching and learning approaches and practices. IGI Global.

HM Government (2013). National curriculum in England: Computing programmes of study.

James, A.R. (2013). Lego Serious Play: A three-dimensional approach to learning development. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (6).

Jensen, C. N. (2017). Serious Play approaches for creating, sharing, and mobilizing tacit knowledge in cross-disciplinary settings [unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Arizona State University.

Jensen, C. N., Seager, T. P., & Cook-Davis, A. (2018), LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in multidisciplinary student teams. International Journal of Management and Applied Research, 5(4), 264-280.

Kindred, J. (2008). Making cooperative learning visible without the group grade. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at EMU, 2(3).

Knowles, M.S., Holton, E.F., Swanson, R.A, Robinson, P.A. (2020). The adult learner : The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge.

Krivitsky, A. (2021). LEGO4SCRUM: SCRUM simulation with LEGO.

Kurkovsky, S. (2015, July 4-8). Teaching software engineering with LEGO Serious Play. Proceedings of the 2015 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (pp. 213-218). Vilnius, Lithuania. ACM.

Ludovico, L.A., Malchiodi, D., & Zecca, L. (2017, November 13). A multimodal LEGO®-based learning activity mixing musical notation and computer programming. Proceedings of the 1st ACM SIGCHI International Workshop on Multimodal Interaction for Education (pp. 44-48). Glasgow, UK. ACM.

Ludwig, J. (2008). Chapter 14 - Software engineering at full scale: A unique curriculum. In H.J.C. Ellis, S.A. Demurjian, & J.F. Naveda (Eds.), Software engineering: Effective teaching and learning approaches and practices. IGI Global.

McNeil, L. E., & Mitran, S. (2008). Vibrational frequencies and tuning of the African mbira. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 123(2), 1169-1178.

Mintzes, J. J., & Wandersee, J. H. (2005). Reform and innovation in science teaching: A human constructivist view. In J.J. Mintzes, J.H. Wandersee & J.D. Novak (Eds.), Teaching Science for Understanding (pp. 29-58). Academic Press.

Montagu, J. (2011). mbira, kalimba, likembe. In A. Latham (Ed.), The Oxford Companion to Music. OUP.

Monteiro, I. T., Salgado, L. C. de Castro, Mota, M. P., Sampaio, A. L., & de Souza, C. S. (2017). Signifying software engineering to computational thinking learners with AgentSheets and PoliFacets. Journal of Visual Languages & Computing, 40, 91-112.

Nerantzi, C. & James, A. (Eds.) (2018). Discovering innovative applications of LEGO® in learning and teaching in higher education [Special issue]. International Journal of Management and Applied Research, 5(4).

Paasivaara, M., Heikkilä, V., Casper, L. & Toivola, T. (2014, May 31 - June 7). Teaching students scrum using LEGO Blocks. Companion Proceedings of the 36th International Conference on Software Engineering. (pp. 382-391). Hyderabad, India. ACM.

Papert, S. (2002). Hard fun. (originally published in the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)).

Papert, S., & Harel., I. (1991). Situating constructionism. In S. Papert, & I. Harel, Constructionism (pp. 1-11). Ablex Publishing.

Purves, R. (2019, December 3). Using LEGO to teach academic writing skills.

Razumnikova, O. M. (2012). Divergent thinking and learning. In N. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, (pp. 1028-1031). Springer.

Resnick, M., Berg, R., & Eisenberg, M. (2000). Beyond black boxes: Bringing transparency and aesthetics back to scientific investigation. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(1), 7-30.

Rich, P.J., Browning, S.F., Perkins, M., Shoop, T., Yoshikawa, E., Belikov, O.M. (2019). Coding in K-8: International trends in teaching elementary/primary computing. TechTrends, 63, 311-329.

Rode, J.A., Weibert, A., Marshall, A., Aal, K. von Rekowski, T., El Mimouni, H., & Booker, J. (2015, September 7-11). From computational thinking to computational making. Proceedings of the 2015 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (pp. 239-250). Osaka, Japan. ACM.

Ruthmann, A., Heines, J.M., Greher, G.R., Laidler, P., & Saulters. C. (2010, March 10-13). Teaching computational thinking through musical live coding in scratch. Proceedings of the 41st ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (pp. 351-355). Milwaukee Wisconsin, USA. ACM.

Schmidt, J. A. (2010). Flow in Education. In P. Peterson, E. Baker, & B., McGaw (Eds.) International Encyclopedia of Education (pp605-611). Elsevier.

Schulz, K.-P., & Geithner, S. (2011, April 12-14). The development of shared understandings and innovation through metaphorical methods such as LEGO Serious PlayTM [Paper presentation]. International Conference on Organizational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities (OLKC), Hull, UK.

Selby, C., & Woollard, J. (2013). Computational thinking: The developing definition. University of Southampton.

Tsai, M.-J., Liang, J.-C., & Hsu, C.-Y. (2021). The Computational Thinking Scale for Computer Literacy Education. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 59(4), 579-602.

Turkle, S. & Papert, S. (1990). Epistemological Pluralism: Styles and Voices within the Computer Culture. Signs 16(1), 128-157.

The Royal Society (2012). Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools.

Wing, J. M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM 49 (3), 33-35.

Wing, J. M. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366(1881), 3717-3725.




How to Cite

Gold, N. E., Purves, R., & Himonides, E. (2022). Playing, Constructionism, and Music in Early-Stage Software Engineering Education. Multidisciplinary Journal for Education, Social and Technological Sciences, 9(1), 14–38.