Computational Thinking Counts in Elementary Grades: Powerful STEM Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century
National Science Foundation CAREER
December 2019 – November 2023
This 4-year STEM+C grant aims to develop a professional development model for bringing computation thinking into the formal mathematics and science curriculum for grades 3-5 in one district. To achieve this goal, we will implement a three-year professional learning model that includes summer workshops and ongoing support throughout the year. In the summers, participating teachers will learn about design thinking, project-based learning, and computational thinking in addition to being introduced to new technologies. During the year, in-class implementation support will be offered and monthly video club sessions will be conducted to sensitize teachers to noticing in their classrooms. Throughout the process, teachers will co-design and implement projects-based lessons and design-thinking projects that they have designed to integrate computational thinking into math and science.
The research will focus on the professional learning model in which teachers will be creating project-based units that incorporate computational thinking into math and science. We have chosen to partner with schools in one urban district to engage in design-based implementation research in which we work closely with a group of teachers to examine and refine our model of professional learning. Given the research at the elementary level, and studies in language, culture and linguistics, we argue that it is important to engage children in computational thinking and disciplinary content and practices early in their academics through project-based and design-thinking projects and activities. Until now, most computational thinking projects have been limited to informal learning environments because of constraints teachers face. By working with teachers as co-developers, we raise the relevance and “fit” of the units for the schools.
The outcomes of this research effort will include: teacher-developed project-based or design thinking lessons; a longitudinal study of teacher professional development for promoting computational thinking in the STEM disciplines in elementary grades; a refined and scalable model for professional development; and a set of video teaching cases that provide teachers with models of implementation of such units in their own classrooms that highlight ways to recognize a wide variety of student thinking strategies, particularly when student thinking is not verbal. We will also develop an annual conference at which teachers from the district can learn from each other and can share their own experiences.