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Investigating the Effects of Computational Thinking Games on Mathematical and Scientific Practices

Overview:

The STEM + Computing Partnership (STEM+C) program seeks to advance multidisciplinary integration of computing in STEM teaching and learning through applied research and development across one or more domains. This project aims at investigating the connections between computational thinking and mathematical and scientific practices as outlined in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) through large-scale deployment of an online curriculum for development of computational thinking. The computational skills will be delivered to elementary, middle, and high-school students through three separate age- and grade-appropriate game-based computational thinking curriculum using an adaptive educational platform focused on developing higher-order skills that are likely transferable to mathematics and science learning. Two research questions will guide the research and development activities: (1) Can the game-based computational thinking curriculum lead to improvement in students' mathematics and science practices, as well as their computing skills?; and (2) What are the optimal characteristics of curriculum materials and teacher enactment that would lead to greatest outcomes at different grade levels? To answer these questions, the project will: (1) develop computational thinking problem-based learning experiences with a focus on computational thinking embedded in three age-appropriate instructional games for elementary, middle, and high school students; (2) provide scaffolded teacher support for delivering the learning experience that does not require any computational background for teachers; (3) develop valid measures towards assessing acquisition of shared practices; (4) implement the curricula and evaluate their effects through large-scale statewide in three states with over 3,000 teachers and over 90,000 students; (5) connect the computational challenges with mathematics word problem solving and analyze the practice transfer; and (6) iterate the interventions and validation over multiple years with data-driven optimization towards greater transfer outcomes.
The study will adopt the notion of computational thinking as a problem-solving process that is transferable to a wide variety of situations, including practical applications in mathematics and science. Thus, the premise of this effort will be that practices at the core of computational thinking are closely related to the mathematics and science practices identified in the CCSS and NGSS. In order to demonstrate how appropriate skills are developed across grade levels, the project will develop three separate game-based interventions appropriate for elementary, middle, and high school students, including problem-based computational thinking learning experiences that will be embedded in each of these games. To facilitate the successful implementation of the game-based learning technologies and curricula, the project will integrate computational games with the Teacher Co-Pilot, a learning platform that will provide teachers with lesson plans and step-by-step processes for classroom activities, which are directly deployed on student computers. The design of the Teacher Co-Pilot assumes that teachers will learn best by doing the lesson, so the experience will be tailored towards minimum startup time. To address the two research questions, the project will investigate whether a game-based computational thinking curriculum can lead to improvement in selected aspects of students' mathematics and science practices, as well as their computing skills. This will be achieved through the refinement and deployment of the three games at scale and assessing transfer with cognitive interviews of a small sample of students and carefully developed assessments with all the participating students. Likewise, the project will investigate the optimal characteristics of curriculum materials and teacher enactment that would lead to greatest outcomes at different grade levels via integration with the Teacher Co-Pilot platform, through which the project will investigate the most effective minimal scaffolding needed for teachers. This will be accomplished through pilot studies in two iterations with a sample of 40 teachers and focus group interviews to investigate useful and optimal feedback for teachers. The key outcome of this project will be research-informed and field-tested prototypes of game-based curriculum focused on the integration of computational thinking and science and mathematics learning across grade levels, freely available to educators for implementation of adaptation beyond the duration of the project. An advisory board will conduct the formative and summative evaluation of the project.