Inspiring Young Children to Engage in Computational Thinking In and Out of School (Research to Practice)

June 15th, 2019 | RESEARCH

Integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects in pre-college settings is seen as critical in providing opportunities for children to develop knowledge, skills, and interests in these subjects and the associated critical thinking skills. More recently computational thinking (CT) has been called out as an equally important topic to emphasize among pre-college students. The authors of this paper began an integrated STEM+CT project three years ago to explore integrating these subjects through a science center exhibit and a curriculum for 5-8 year old students. We reported on the development of this project and an analysis of how the existing curriculum highlighted CT knowledge and skills, and how we expected the curriculum to engage students in CT in an ASEE conference paper in 2016. This paper reports on the evolution of the project, development of the science center exhibit, and revision of the curriculum. Part of this evolution included the refining of a set of CT competencies and what it would look like for this young age group. In this paper, we discuss this evolution as well as how we have operationalized the CT competencies with data from science center and classroom testing.

At the outset of this project, there were few resources that specifically considered teaching CT with 5-8 year old children and fewer clear examples of what it looked like for children to engage in CT. However, there were many, sometimes competing, definitions and approaches to CT more generally. After further review of the literature and some laboratory and classroom testing with children, the team refined definitions for the following CT competencies: abstraction; algorithms and procedures; automation; data collection; data analysis; data representation; debugging/troubleshooting; problem decomposition; parallelization; simulation; and pattern recognition. Analysis of hundreds of students and tens of teachers implementing the curriculum allowed us to develop concrete examples of how students engaged in CT competencies as well as how kindergarten through second grade teachers fostered CT competency development. We report on these examples and how they informed the development of the integrated STEM+CT science center exhibit and curriculum.



Team Members

Morgan Hynes, Co-Principal Investigator, Purdue University
Monica Cardella, Principal Investigator, Purdue Univeristy
Tamara Moore, Co-Principal Investigator, Purdue University
Sean Brophy, Co-Principal Investigator, Purdue University
Senay Purzer, Co-Principal Investigator, Purdue University
Kristina Tank, Co-Principal Investigator, Iowa State University
Muhsin Meneske, Project Staff, Purdue University
Ibrahim Yeter, Project Staff
Hoda Ehsan, Project Staff, Purdue University


Publication: ASEE 2019 Annual Conference


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: STEM+C
Award Number: 1543175

Related URLs

Integrated STEM and Computing Learning in Formal and Informal Settings for Kindergarten to Grade 2


Audience: Educators | Teachers | Elementary School Children (6-10) | Learning Researchers | Museum | ISE Professionals | Pre-K Children (0-5)
Discipline: Computing and information science | Education and learning science
Resource Type: Conference Proceedings | Literature Review
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Informal | Formal Connections | K-12 Programs | Museum and Science Center Exhibits

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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