Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) is partnering with the Henrico County Public School District (HCPS) on a planning grant to develop a CE21 project that will build Computational Thinking (CT) activities into current instructional practices across core middle school curriculum. The project will locate nascent CT activities in the existing curriculum, reinforce and develop the overlap between the curricular area and the target CT area, and subsequently reinforce the CT content in a short, reinforcing instructional unit. This planning grant will be used to prepare for the research by creating, piloting, testing and assembling instructional interventions and materials, approaches to learning progressions in CT, management arrangements and practices across and within VT and HCPS, and advisors across the areas that will need development and oversight in full proposal. The overarching research questions for the full proposal are (1) whether the approach of integrating CT is viable across diverse educational environments, teachers and students, (2) whether the approach has significant negative entailments ("show stoppers"), and (3) whether the approach will prove to be scalable across different school systems.

The CS department at VT has a long history of innovative engagement with K-12 as well as university pedagogy in computational thinking, mathematics, and science instruction. HCPS is a mixed SES, multi-racial district of 50,000 students, with a ten-year history of integrating laptop use into instruction in grades 6-12. The HCPS administration has identified CT as a needed area for growth and has the backing of the District School Board. They have a vision of 3-4 CT activities in every class in every grade across core curricular areas. HCPS?s vision plus VT's CT expertise and the PI's prior experience with the development and scaling up of educational research position this project to produce transformative knowledge and practices.

Project Report

The goal of the CE 21 program is to increase the general understanding of computer science amongst K-12 students and to increase the number of undergraduate computer science majors – that is, to increase the ubiquity of computational thinking in K-12 education. This project took on the problem of what cognitive strategies and emphases would provide solid foundations to computational thinking. We call these "proto-computational thinking skills". In middle school, students take "earth sciences" as preparation for high school biology, chemistry, and physics; in it, they learn the scientific method, how think like a scientist. "Proto-computational thinking" is analogous to earth sciences in that it begins to get students to think like computer scientists. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) partnered with the Henrico County Public School District (outside of Richmond, VA) on a CE21 planning grant to integrate Computational Thinking (CT) activities into current instructional practices across core middle school curriculum. This is unlike the "earth sciences" approach to scientific thinking because computers and therefore computational thinking shows up in almost areas of core middle school curriculum. Just as for the larger project (the one the planning grant anticipates), this pilot project located nascent CT activities in the existing curriculum, reinforced and developed the overlap between the curricular area and the target CT area. (The larger project will add a short instructional unit at the conclusion of the school year to reinforce the CT content.) The location of curricular areas is done by working directly with teachers in the District. We call this the "integrated approach". By placing computational thinking throughout the curriculum, this strategy also deals with the economic reality that most school districts in the US cannot afford to add new, computer-science oriented classes, and the faculty to teach them. In the Planning Grant, a few demonstrations were developed to prove the viability of the approach. Furthermore, the project prepared for the full research by creating, piloting, testing and assembling instructional interventions and materials, approaches to learning progressions in CT, management arrangements, and practices across and within VT and HCPS, and advisors across the areas that need development and oversight in full proposal. The overarching research questions for the full proposal are (1) whether the approach of integrating CT is viable across diverse educational environments, teachers and students, (2) whether the approach has significant negative entailments ("show stoppers"), and (3) whether the approach will prove to be scalable across different school systems. The CS department at VT has a long history of innovative engagement with K-12 as well as university pedagogy in computational thinking, mathematics, and science instruction. HCPS is a mixed SES, multi-racial district of 50,000 students, with a ten-year history of integrating laptop use into instruction in grades 6-12. The HCPS administration identified CT as a needed area for growth and had the backing of the District School Board. They have a vision of 3-4 CT activities in every class in every grade across core curricular areas. HCPS’s vision plus VT's CT expertise and the PI's prior experience with the development and scaling up of educational research position this project to produce transformative knowledge and practices. The project resulted in: Three proto-CT learning technologies, developed and refined through at least two re-implementation iterations, each: "CritiSearch" – an internet search tool that encourages student reflection on the nature of searching and representation. While apparently a mundane search interface, it allows sharing and comparing search terms and results among students, mechanisms to minimize or prioritized selected results, and to make notes about searches. Thus it deals with proto-computational thinking ideas of multiple representations, process, and computationally-informed critical thinking. "FractionalDrumming" – a novel way to teach fractions to failing students using musical rhythm. Novel as well as familiar visual representations of fractions are synchronized to see patterns and conduct comparisons across multiple representations. "Astronomical Proportions" – a simple tool for comparing the size of objects – e.g. the diameter of the earth with the diameter of a soccer ball or the length of a truck with the length of a baseball bat. The Integrated Approach methodology was refined over the course of the project through two rounds of participatory design of Virginia Tech graduate and undergraduate students working with core-curriculum middle school teachers. The confidence gained shows that this is a viable methodology and independent of particular content or discipline. Through the grant and an REU supplement, we trained 9 graduate students and 22 undergraduates in the participatory design of educational technology. A proposal was developed to scale up the project was submitted to the last year of the CE 21 program. It was not funded. While the funded planning project has been completed, work continues at a low level to refine the demonstration technologies and to identify other funding programs and partners.

Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Institute
Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS)
Type
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
1132227
Program Officer
Janice E. Cuny
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2011-10-01
Budget End
2015-01-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2011
Total Cost
$215,998
Indirect Cost
City
Blacksburg
State
VA
Country
United States
Zip Code
24061