The Children’s Congress: Creative Computational Thinking to Promote
Gifted Pupils
Sara Hinterplattner
1 a
, Barbara Sabitzer
1 b
, Heike Demarle-Meusel
1 c
and Simon Schneiderbauer
2 d
Department of STEM Education, Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria
Department of Particulate Flow Modelling, Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria
Computational Thinking, Interdisciplinarity, Creativity, Gifted Education, Project-based Learning.
The Children’s Congress is an event, developed to meet a demand for strengthening computational thinking
and increasing the interest in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) subjects.
This congress brings teachers, university students and pupils together to work on interdisciplinary real-life
problems. During these proceedings, the pupils slip into the role of researchers and scientists. The Children’s
Congress aims at inspiring pupils, students and teachers to work with computational thinking in different
subjects, as well as promoting the concept of working in an inter- or transdisciplinary way. It is a core value
of the Children’s Congress that the project should challenge and benefit everyone involved. At university it
was shown that students need special requirements in talent promotion to be successful: creating community,
offering freedom and enhancing academic competence. In this paper we want to find out if the project offers
these requirements and their effects. The findings show that the Children’s Congress includes all pillars of
gifted education and moreover that the pupils enjoyed these pedagogical approaches. Besides, the Children’s
Congress helps to detect new talents and trains all participants in computational thinking and cross-curricular
project-based learning.
Gifted pupils have by definition above average abili-
ties enabling them to acquire new knowledge quickly
and to understand new concepts almost immediately
(Gronostaj et al., 2016). They already know 40-
60% of the content that is being taught (Coleman and
Cross, 2005) and they are usually fast learners, need
minimal instructions and have an excellent memory
(Harrison, 2004; Webb et al., 2008). These issues
make it necessary to offer pupils projects in the class-
room giving the possibility to do more than the usual
tasks. One possibility to challenge gifted pupils in this
way is to do inter- or transdisciplinary projects, which
require their creativity and academic knowledge in a
complex way. In doing so it is important to offer dif-
ferent and individual tasks for the pupils, because ev-
ery pupil has different abilities and interests. If pupils
can work in the right balance between the perceived
challenges of the task and their own perceived skills
a flow state can be entered. A flow state describes the
optimal state in which a person performing an activ-
ity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus,
full involvement, and enjoyment in the process (Csik-
szentmihalyi, 1990).
One solution to achieve this advantageous state
is the Children’s Congress, which combines these
challenges with computational thinking. The lat-
ter describes a problem-solving process with distinc-
tive problem-solving techniques and general intellec-
tual practices. It covers solving problems, design-
ing systems and understanding human behavior by
drawing on the concepts of computers (Wing, 2006).
These concepts should increase the interest in com-
puter science, correct possible misconceptions and
work against existing fears and inhibitions concern-
ing computer science and new technologies.
In university context Wolfensberger (2012) found
out that gifted students call for a specific pedagogi-
cal approach by teachers. She formulated the three
pillars of Honors Pedagogy: creating community, en-
Hinterplattner, S., Sabitzer, B., Demarle-Meusel, H. and Schneiderbauer, S.
The Children’s Congress: Creative Computational Thinking to Promote Gifted Pupils.
DOI: 10.5220/0009576902770284
In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2020) - Volume 1, pages 277-284
ISBN: 978-989-758-417-6
2020 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
hancing academic competence, and offering freedom;
(Wolfensberger, 2012). In this paper we want (1) to
unveil if the Children’s Congress offers the potential
to provide these requirements and, if it does, (2) to
reach the effects of these three pillars in the school
context. Results of the questionnaires of 183 pupils
were examined to answer the following questions:
1. Does the Children’s Congress support participants
to create a community, enhance academic knowl-
edge and offer freedom for the pupils?
2. How are the pupils’ experiences with these 3 pil-
lars of Honors Pedagogy in the project?
2.1 Aims
The concept of the children’s congress was developed
as part of the ”Informatics - A Child’s Play?!” project
(Sabitzer et al., 2014; Sabitzer and Demarle-Meusel,
2018). The main aim of the Children’s Congress is to
foster and implement computational thinking in reg-
ular classes in the medium or long term. Computa-
tional thinking is understood as the application of IT
concepts to various ”non-IT” problems (Wing, 2006).
Experience has shown that short-term interventions
(e.g. individual workshops) have only minor effects.
With its setting, the Children’s Congress offers the
possibility of a long-term discussion of a topic by
working on a project for one semester. A specific fea-
ture is the collaboration of various stakeholders and
target groups of education: these are scientists, uni-
versity students, teachers and pupils. Such a collab-
oration creates synergies, which are beneficial for all
target group. It is particularly important that project
work implemented in the Children’s Congress specif-
ically supports pupils. It is encouraged that the Chil-
dren’s Congress has a different focus each year, where
it should be emphasized that focus is chosen broad
enough allowing to host a wide range of projects and
subjects. The creativity of the participants is encour-
aged as soon as they come up with ideas. The only
requirement is that the project idea must be linked to
computational thinking. For this, the schools are sup-
ported by the university (scientists and students). The
project implementation at school should be interdis-
ciplinary and problem-based. In addition to the fun
and learning success that the pupils have when im-
plementing the project, the overriding goal is to pro-
mote interest in IT and STEAM. The highlight and
conclusion of the Children’s Congress is the congress
day, on which all projects and developed products are
presented and tried out. At the end a jury awards
the best three projects. Besides promoting compu-
tational thinking the Children’s Congress aims at de-
tecting new talents and inspire interdisciplinary teach-
ing. Furthermore, it interweaves teacher pre- and in-
service training with regular school lessons in a way
that anyone (any target group) can benefit or learn
from each other.
2.2 Setup
The project teams are made up of pupils (aged 7 to 14
years), university students and teachers. The pupils
have to work as researchers and developers. They
have to solve a real-world problem and to develop an
innovative, creative (digital) product. In this process
they get support by their teachers and students from
university. The students are from the education pro-
gram or from the honors program of our university.
The project starts with the Kick-Off Event, where
the teachers present the first ideas of their pupils.
Based on these presentations project teams are built,
which consist of one or two teachers and one or
two students. Following this first Kick-Off Event the
project work in the Preparation Phase starts. The
pupils have half a year to work on their project. In
this process they regularly visit the university to at-
tend workshops in the STEM field and for students’
support. At the end the final event brings together
all teachers, classes and students: The Children’s
Congress. At this event the pupils present their ideas,
their work and their final products, which can be
tested by all attendees. A jury consisting of univer-
sity professors evaluates the projects and awards the
best three teams.
2.3 The Children’s Congress 2019
Every congress has a main topic very general, which
is open to every school subject. Thus, it is elaborated
as interdisciplinary projects. At the Johannes Kepler
University (JKU) in Linz (Austria), the topic of the
2019’s congress was “From the problem to the solu-
tion: Computational Thinking in everyday life”. A
total of 230 pupils worked with 23 teachers and 12
university students on 12 projects. The participating
pupils were from 12 different schools in Upper Aus-
tria and from grades 1 to 8. An overview about the
projects and the participating pupils can be found in
Table 1.
Most of the project ideas were developed and fi-
nalized at the Kick-off event. The pupils itself de-
veloped research questions during the Preparation
Phase. This phase, where all of the project members
CSEDU 2020 - 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Table 1: The Projects presented at the 2019’s Children’s Congress at JKU Linz.
Projects Pupils Grade
12/4/3: How can a poet visit 12 countries on 4 continents in 3 minutes? 24 3
ABC - activity based coding 48 0-4
Audio & video factory 11 6+7
How can initial programming be developed for primary school children? 22 4
Interaction human and computer 16 6+8
Learning success and self-control with Bee-Bots 18 6
Learning with the micro:bit 6 22
My Garden App 24 5
My heart beats for you 19 5
Social bot – friendly robot experience 10 7+8
Traffic safety and urban planning using interactive models 12 8
Writing personal descriptions supported by diagrams 20 3
worked together, amounted from 10 to 20 hours per
team in total. The time that was spent by the pupils,
students and teachers in total for the project was be-
tween 20 and 50 hours per person.
In the project 12/4/3: How can a poet visit 12
countries on 4 continents in 3 minutes? the pupils
dealt with their home countries. They did research
on the geography and culture among others. In this
process they painted a big earth map where a robot
was visiting one country after each other. The pupils
”taught” the robot the traditional dance from each
country, which was shown through its path. Addi-
tionally, class diagrams with useful information about
every country were presented. The project bears this
name since the involved pupils or their parents orig-
inate from 12 different countries located on 4 differ-
ent continents, while the robot only takes 3 minutes
for its whole journey. Figure 1 shows the map of the
countries, some of the presenting children and visi-
tors. Figure 2 shows an Ozobot with a passenger on it
travelling across some of the countries. This Ozobot
was also used in the following project.
In the project ABC - activity based coding the
children from preschool to the 4th grade showed
insights into programming languages by using dif-
ferent robots and software like Beebots, OzoBots,
OzoBlockly, Scratch and Lego WeDo among others.
This was done across all grades and was used in a
wide range of teaching subjects to ensure interdisci-
plinarity. Therefore the pupils wrote for example, es-
says on robots in their German classes or discussed
dimensions and geometry in Mathematics classes.
The Audio & video factory”-project aimed at
teaching the pupils the basics about movie edit-
ing software, downloading and manipulating videos,
camera setting and file formats among others to
strengthen their abilities to produce a movie. Next
to the technical aims, a major goal of this project was
Figure 1: Project 12/4/3: How can a poet visit 12 countries
on 4 continents in 3 minutes? The robots with feathers in
the flag’s countries dance the traditional dances.
to deal with bullying. The final product was a short
movie about bullying in school in particular about the
awareness and the avoidance.
In the How can initial programming be devel-
oped for primary school children? the pupils tried
different approaches to get to a first understanding of
programming. In this process they compared different
programming languages and robots.
The research question in the Interaction human
and computer”-project was how it is possible to com-
The Children’s Congress: Creative Computational Thinking to Promote Gifted Pupils
Figure 2: Project 12/4/3 - Ozobot travelling through coun-
municate with a robot. The pupils did a lot of research
and at the end created a program to interact with a
The pupils in the project Learning success and
self-control with Bee-Bots developed different game-
based programs to check their learning success. This
included a memory, robots who check the answer to
a given task or hot-potatoes-tasks (quizzes and puz-
zles). All challenges where designed interactively and
in a user-friendly and motivating way.
The Learning with the micro:bit”-project-team
developed a “Who wants to be a milionaire”-game
with questions regarding the classes’ learning con-
tents. The answers were then checked with the mi-
The My Garden App is a smartphone app that
helps with the gardening. It tells when to sow the dif-
ferent kinds of vegetables and fruits, when they are
ready to harvest and gives other tips and hints for gar-
dening. For trying different kinds of vegetables and
fruits points can be gained, which may unlock more
The research question of the My heart beats for
you”-project is: How do i recognize friends that fit to
me?’ In this process the project team built a measur-
ing device that determines pulse and oxygen concen-
tration in the blood (saturation). The collected data
is linked to a database using Excel macros, which are
then assigned in a playful manner using psychologi-
cal studies to create social links. The playful character
and the exploration of social bonds was the focus of
this project.
The Social bot friendly robot experience de-
veloped a robot that intervenes when people argue.
From the draft to the prototype, they dealt with the
question of whether and to what extent digital media
and new technologies can help in interpersonal rela-
tionships. Where does the authority of the machine
begin and end, what rights, obligations, ethical prin-
ciples must or can a robot notice?
In the project Traffic safety and urban planning
using interactive models the pupils visited and also
photographed danger spots on the way to school.
These danger spots were also closely examined in
Google Maps. Subsequently this information was
sketched on paper, where additionally small clay
bricks served as models of the surrounding houses.
By using robots, cars and pedestrians, various danger-
ous situations could be simulated on the street models.
In the project “Writing personal descriptions sup-
ported by diagrams” the pupils planned and prepared
personal descriptions of their class mates with the
help of class and activity diagrams. Figure 3 shows
an activity diagram developed from a class and an ob-
ject diagram. On the left side it describes the charac-
teristics of an abstract person (name, age, profession
...) and on the right side a concrete person (Franz, 8
years, pupil ...).
Figure 3: Project Writing personal descriptions.
In total 230 children participated in the Children’s
Congress 2019. They were all asked for feedback
CSEDU 2020 - 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
on the Children’s Congress and 183 (79.57%) were
willing to complete a questionnaire. 84 out of these
183 described themselves as female, 97 as male and 2
did not mention a gender description. At the time of
the study all pupils were between 6 and 16 years old
(there is no knowledge about the age of one partici-
pant who did not want to specify her or his age) with
an arithmetic mean of 11.08. The distribution of the
age can be seen in Figure 4.
The participating teachers and students were also
asked about the Children’s Congress. A total of 16
teachers (7 males and 9 females) and 4 students (2
males and 2 females) accepted this invitation.
The focus of the evaluation lies in the promo-
tion of gifted pupils. Therefore it was examined if
the students experienced freedom of choice, enhance-
ment of academic competence and creating of com-
munity. Moreover, the experiences with these free-
dom of choice, these enhancement of academic com-
petence and these creating of community were inves-
tigated. To reach this aim the questionnaire contained
6 questions for the pupils. Two of them were open
questions, which had to be answered by writing a
short text. The other questions were to answer with
a four- or five-point Likert scale as described below.
The questionnaire for the teachers and students con-
tained 3 questions, two of them were to answer with a
five-point Likert scale and one with agreement or not.
4.1 The 3 Pillars of Honors Education
4.1.1 Creating Community
In the project, creating a community is an important
issue. The pupils work in groups and are in active
exchange with their teachers and supporting students.
For communication collaborative platforms are used
where new ideas or problems can be discussed. In
order to make the project visible to other pupils, there
is the big public event at the end where the pupils can
present their results.
The questionnaire contained one question where
the pupils were asked for their own opinion how they
worked together in the class. The pupils could answer
with a five-point Likert scale (yes, rather yes, partly,
rather not or not at all;) (see Table 2). The results
given in Figure 5 and Table 2 show clearly that the
Children’s Congress definitly supports and strength-
ens the creation of a community.
4.1.2 Enhancing Academic Competence
The broadening of the own academic competence is
of course a reason why gifted students want to par-
ticipate in the project. Often pupils are focused on
a specific subject when they start with the project,
because they are used to it from school. But in the
Children’s Congress projects it is not enough to be
good in one specific field of domain. It especially
fosters the creativity and the out-of-the-box think-
ing. The pupils participate in projects on different and
interdisciplinary subjects to ensure a higher compe-
tence in important subjects or dimensions of being a
gifted pupil. Topics like innovation and entrepreneur-
ship, networking or project management prepare the
students for their further life. Combined with skills
in computer science like programming or computa-
tional thinking, the students get a solid and important
grounding for projects even in disciplines other than
computer science.
The own research is a big part of every project.
The students are challenged with real-world problems
in the STEAM field and demanded a variety of ap-
proaches. Often students have to start with a lot of
research, doing many experiments and finally create
their own products that are presented at the final event
(Hinterplattner and Sabitzer, 2018).
In the questionnaire the pupils were asked for their
opinion if they learned something and enhanced their
academic competence. The pupils could answer with
a five-point Likert scale (yes, rather yes, partly, rather
not or not at all;) (see Table 2). When asked about
this, 74% (yes and rather yes) of the pupils stated that
they had learned something. The details of the results
can be seen in Figure 5 and Table 2 and show that the
aim of enhancing academic competence was reached
by most of the pupils.
In addition to the self-assessment by the pupils,
the external assessment by the teachers and students
was of interest. 55% of the teachers and students rated
the learning progress of their pupils as very high, the
rest rated it high. It is interesting to note that all the
teachers and students surveyed stated that the pupils
had acquired additional skills (e.g. presentation skills,
social behavior, goal-oriented work) in addition to the
subject-specific content.
4.1.3 Offering Bounded Freedom
In every project the pupils get their freedom to work
on their interests in a specific framework. This ap-
proach is called bounded freedom. As mentioned
before, this should be part of every gifted program,
because the gifted pupils want to develop their own
The Children’s Congress: Creative Computational Thinking to Promote Gifted Pupils
Figure 4: Distribution of the age of the pupils who participated in the study.
ideas. The teachers or supporting students will of-
ten define tasks or highlight problems in existing so-
lutions, making it the pupils’ task to improve or im-
plement solutions to solve these challenges. In every
project the gifted pupils bring in their own ideas and
experiences . Working on these individual projects
where there is no fixed solution or at least no fixed
way to get to a solution gives a pupil a lot of room to
try out skills and make precious experiences; all in a
guided but open framework.
One question was dedicated to bounded freedom,
where the pupils were asked if they were allowed to
find their own tasks in the project. The pupils could
answer with a four-point Likert scale, possible an-
swers were: yes, rather yes, rather not or not at all;
The four-point Likert scale was seen as more useful in
this question, because it shouldn’t be able to be neu-
tral in this question. The results can be seen in Figure
5 and Table 2. According to these results most of the
pupils could benefit from bounded freedom, although
some more than in the other questions answered with
no or rather no.
4.2 Experiences
One of the main concerns of the Children’s Congress
is to promote interest in STEAM among children
and adolescents. It is therefore important to find
out whether this target group has enjoyed the event.
Children had been asked if they liked the Children’s
Congress. On a five-point Likert scale, 74% (N=183)
answered with ”very good” or ”good”. In addition
it was from interest, which new interests pupils had
gained from participating. They named e.g. pro-
gramming, robotics, internet-security. The interests
mentioned correlate with the content of the projects
in which the students have worked. This shows very
well that new interests can be generated through this
format. An impressive result is that 48% of the
pupils also worked on the project in their free time.
The external assessment by teachers and students also
showed that the students were very motivated (90%
rated pupils’ motivation as very high or high).
100% of the teachers and students surveyed (3 did
not answer) state that talents can be promoted through
the Children’s Congress.
The data gained from the survey show that the format
of the Children’s Congress is suitable for achieving
the intended results. The setting shows a high level
of motivation both in the self-assessment and in the
external assessment of the pupils. The pupils are in-
terested in the topic and showed in the presentation
at the end that they go beyond the performance re-
quired at school. The learning effect is also very sat-
isfactory. It was not only possible to achieve positive
effects in terms of content, the pupils showed at the
presentations that they developed further in the area
of so-called soft skills as well as 21st century skills.
The Children’s Congress and its preparation phase is
a good way of fostering young talents in STEAM,
not only at school but also at university level. We
could detect all three pillars of gifted education in
the project phase as well as in the final event. Fur-
thermore, by interweaving pre- and in-service training
of (prospective) teachers with regular school lessons
it is possible that all participants and target groups
learn from each other and everyone gets involved
and trained in computational thinking and innova-
tive project-based learning. Regarding the enhance-
CSEDU 2020 - 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Table 2: Distribution of answers to the questions regarding creating community, enhancing academic competence and offering
bounded freedom (N=183).
Yes Rather yes Partly Rather not Not at all No answer
Creating Community: Did
you work well together in the
115 48 12 0 3 5
Enhancing Academic Compe-
tence: Did you learn something
in the project?
82 53 31 5 5 7
Offering Bounded Freedom:
Were you allowed to find your
own tasks in the project?
106 24 x 25 22 6
Figure 5: Distribution of answers to the questions regarding creating community, enhancing academic competence and offer-
ing bounded freedom.
ment of academic competence, especially computa-
tional thinking and computer science topics, it has to
be mentioned, that the examples of the pupils are at a
quite low level and sometimes incorrect in the sense
of computer science. However, using diagrams of this
field like activity or class diagrams, involves main el-
ements of computational thinking. And that is, what
we wanted to achieve and what we did, too: offer-
ing a motivating and playful introduction to computer
science and the use of computational thinking in the
sense of problem-solving in any domain.
The challenges we had in the past years,
mainly regarding the communication between stu-
dents, teachers and scientists as well as difficulties
due to long distances between schools and university
led us to revise the concept and offers. We are plan-
ning more online-training and -supervision as well as
strong partners that can support us during the whole
project. The revised concept will be described in a
future paper.
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