Developing Computational Thinking by Creating Multi-player Physically Active Math Games


PIs: Ivon Arroyo, Gillian Smith, Erin Ottmar
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Award Details

Our nation’s economy is rapidly shifting. Both educators and business leaders recognize that computational thinking (CT) is a “new basic” knowledge necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility. All students should have the opportunity to learn computational thinking in school and be prepared with computational skills that they can apply in almost every discipline. Computational thinking skills include problem solving, systems thinking, computational modeling and data practices. This project uses cell phone technology to train middle school students in public schools in computational thinking and mathematics. Students will learn to create augmented reality games with math challenges. This new genre of embodied technologies that use mobile devices, motion and physical activity will allow middle-school learners to create their own augmented reality math games and play each other’s math games. The research intends to advance scientific knowledge on how people learn by investigating how to teach mathematics and computing through game design and game-based learning. K-12 students will learn to program mobile devices as finite-state-machines, a topic that is typically reserved for undergraduates in computer science. In this process, students shift their perspective from consumers of technology to producers, understand what is beneath and beyond the surface of what they can immediately see and perceive, and think at higher levels of abstraction, an important computational skill.

The project continues the development of The Wearable Learning Cloud Platform (WLCP), a learning technology innovation started with an earlier NSF EAGER award. The Game Editor of this platform supports students as creators of math games while gaining computational thinking skills. Research studies will evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention, the professional development structure, and the game creation process as a vehicle to develop computational thinking and mathematical thinking for both students and their teachers. Research will address three research questions focused on students’ and teachers’ development of computational thinking, engagement, interest, self-concept, and on teachers’ instructional practices: (1) How feasible is it for middle school students to create embodied multiplayer math games, exercising their computational thinking and deep mathematical thinking in the process? What are challenges faced and how should middle school students be supported? (2) In what ways do students improve computational thinking and deepen their math understanding as they create embodied math games? (3) Can teachers effectively implement the math game creation curriculum and help students improve CT? Researchers will develop an instrument to measure students’ progression in computational thinking skills. Research methods also include observations, teacher reflections, artifacts from classroom implementation, and semi-structured interviews. These measures will generate valuable data about students’ and teachers’ learning processes while creating their games and programming wearables. The outcome of the project will advance our knowledge in how youth learn math and gain computational skills through physically active games using mobile technologies.

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