PIs: Gautam Biswas, Douglas Clark, Pratim Sengupta
This project’s investigation is at the nexus between scientific thinking, computational thinking, modeling as an investigative endeavor, and visual programming tools. The PIs are infusing middle-school science with efforts to promote computational thinking, doing that through making modeling a more significant part of science activities. The modeling experiences learners have become progressively more complex throughout each module and more complex across modules, with the increases in complexity informed by complexities of becoming a computational thinker. Modeling and computational thinking are foregrounded in each module, with each becoming more fluid over time as a result of the repetition of increasingly complex modeling experiences in a variety of situations, all of which build on each other. The mental model building, computational thinking, modeling, and science education literatures all inform the endeavor. The technological innovation includes creating and refining a modeling environment appropriate to middle schoolers, including an appropriate visual programming language. Research questions address issues in learning computational thinking in the context of learning to model and use models for investigation (and vice versa) and trajectories towards competency in computational thinking and modeling as their research questions.
Computational thinking is becoming a more and more important required expertise of scientists — both those who work at the high levels of computational science and engineering and those who support them and apply computational science. In addition, as computation becomes more and more ubiquitous in a whole variety of disciplines and workplace responsibilities, the rest of the population, too, needs to be more expert at computational thinking and at using computational tools. Infusing computational thinking and the use of computational tools into the curriculum in appropriate ways is the right way to promote this cross-cutting expertise. Science is one place in the curriculum where computational thinking can easily be integrated, and doing so not only holds the promise for readying more of the population for careers and jobs that require computational thinking and use of computational tools but also making middle school science more exciting to more of the population.