EAGER: Teaching Computational Thinking through Programming Wearable Devices as Finite State Machines

12/1/16-11/30/18

PIs: Ivon Arroyo, Kathryn Fisler, Erin Ottmar
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Award Details

This research project will use cell phone technology and SmartWatches to train middle school students in public schools in computational thinking and mathematics, by having children create such augmented reality games with math related challenges. This new genre of embodied technologies (mobile and wearable devices that involve motion and physical activity) will allow children to create augmented reality math games as well as play each other’s math games. The project intends to advance scientific knowledge on how people learn, as it investigates how to teach mathematics and computing through game play and game design. It investigates how K-12 students may program mobile and wearable technologies (SmartWatches and cell phones) as finite-state-machines, a topic that is typically reserved for undergraduates in Computer Science. The project goes beyond the idea of playing embodied games to having students become creators of math games. In this process, students shift their perspective from consumers to producers, thinking about what is beneath and beyond the surface of what they can immediately see and perceive, thinking at higher levels of abstraction.

This project introduces the idea of teaching finite-state-machines to K-12 students using engaging, high-quality embodied technologies in the form of wearable electronics, while teaching K-12 mathematics through game play and game design. Iterative design studies will examine the feasibility of the approach, including attention to the associated professional development needs for teachers, the human-computer interaction questions raised by programmable wearables, the finite state machine metaphor for learner-oriented programming environments, and curricular constraints and affordances of embedding the work in math learning. Research studies will evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention, the professional development structure, and the game creation process as a vehicle to the development of computational thinking and mathematical thinking. A mixed methods research design will help to collect qualitative results (videos of students designing games, focus groups and interviews) regarding classroom implementation and quantitative data (logs of student game creation actions, survey questionnaire results, tests of finite-state machine understanding). Measures will be triangulated to obtain rich data about students’ and teachers’ processes while creating their games and programming wearables. Research questions focus on students’ and teachers’ development of computational thinking, engagement, interest, self-concept, and on teachers’ instructional practices that will be measured using observations, computational thinking frameworks, teacher reflections, artifacts from classroom implementation, and semi-structured interviews.

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