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Published on October 24, 2019

Jenna Mazza Receives Trawick-Smith Research Award

Jenna Mazza

Jenna Mazza has been named the second recipient of the Jeffrey and Nancy Trawick-Smith Early Childhood Undergraduate Research Award, which supports students who are conducting scientific, empirical studies on young children within the Center for Early Childhood Education that “will yield practical knowledge in early education and development and, thus, promote the well-being of young children and their families.” The fund was created by the Trawick-Smiths to provide opportunities for undergraduates to gain research knowledge and skills by assisting with research and travel expenses to present at national conferences.

Mazza, an Eastern student majoring in psychology and early childhood education, will use the award to conduct a Study of Coding and Debugging Skills by Preschoolers. Working with her mentor, Dr. Sudha Swaminathan, she will investigate children’s abilities to code robotic toys, problem-solve, and debug errors in their codes, aiming to answer the following questions:

  1. What types of strategies do children employ to gather knowledge about the symbols located on the toys, and how will they use this information to predict the toys’ movements?
  2. How do children use their gathered knowledge to get the toys to move from point A to point B?  What types of conversations do children have with one another? What strategies do they discuss?
  3. What do children do if their initial coding does not work? How do children problem-solve and debug?
  4. How can teachers scaffold children’s coding?

"If children in the present study are able to code and debug," Mazza states, "this study could lead to future studies focusing on the benefits of including robotics toys in classrooms, as well as suggest effective ways to integrate coding into the early childhood curriculum." She also notes that "young children are capable of much more than they are given credit for. As a future educator, it is important that I learn to challenge my students."