CHILDREN'S USE OF DECOMPOSITION
IN PROBLEM SOLVING

As a teching assistant in an introductory Computer Science class, I noticed that, above syntax, my students struggled with figuring out how to decompose their code. How do you take a big problem and break it into smaller, more manageble pieces. I realized that this style of thinking is rarely taught in schools, especially before high school. So, for my honors thesis, I am determining at what age children first develop the capacity for decomposition in problem solving via a developmental psychology study, and am then utilizing that knowledge and my Computer Science background to develop a technology that further builds the skill of decomposition in young students.

For the first half of this project, I am running a developmental psychology study on decomposition in problem solving with Professor Hyowon Gweon, in Stanford's Psychology Department, as an advisor. In my study, children, aged 4-6 are introduced to my magic box. My box allows you to build a shape out of small wooden blocks, give it a coin, press a button, and out comes a shiny block that is the same shape as what you built with wooden blocks. After being introduced to this paradigm, the children are introduced to Debbie (a duck) and Paula (a pig) wh need help building a new bridge so they can cross an obstacle to play together. The bridge itself is made up of seven blocks, but the children are only given three, so they must use their three blocks to get components that they can then combine to build the full bridge.

I have completed piloting of this study and have begun running participants from whom I am collecting data.

In the next two quarters, I will begin work on a technology to teach this skill to the appropriate age group, which I am narrowing in on through the psychology study. Professor James Landay in Stanford's Computer Science Department is advising this aspect of the project.