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STEM Inquiry Profile

Research on Practice Using STEM Inquiry Embedded with Computational Thinking in Elementary School


The project will research the results of integrating scientific inquiry and computational thinking in elementary schools, focusing on grades 2-5. The need for strengthening computational thinking within STEM education is now recognized as an important priority, but computational thinking receives little attention in our nation's classrooms. Most resources like this to date have been seen as add-ons to the curriculum and have not been widely adopted. In collaboration with teachers, the project will create exemplar lessons that will embed computational thinking in scientific inquiry rather than teaching it as an isolated topic. In intensive summer workshops and afterschool meetings during the academic year, teachers will be engaged in their own adult-level computational thinking and scientific inquiry, to help them develop their own sense of what scientific inquiry and computational thinking are. Starting with the exemplar lessons, the project will work with the teachers to iteratively modify, implement, and refine those lessons. The project research will investigate how and to what extent this approach enhances teacher and subsequent student understanding (through the lessons they have developed) of computational thinking and inquiry. The project will directly impact 20 teachers in 3 schools, and over 1000 students. The resulting model of integrated curriculum and teacher professional development will be widely disseminated at professional conference for researchers and teachers. The model of integrated curriculum and teacher professional development developed by this exploratory project will be developed for potential future scale-up. Computing has become an integral part of everyday practice within modern fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As a result, the STEM+Computing Partnerships (STEM+C) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the integration of computing in STEM teaching and learning.

The project will research the effectiveness of teaching computational thinking by embedding it in the process of science inquiry rather than teaching coding and computational thinking separately and then imposing that on science inquiry. Instead of directly teaching coding, the project will introduce computational ways of thinking, such as algorithmic thinking, problem decomposition, flowcharts, debugging, loops, etc., that can be used in the inquiry process. The project will research if the prototype curriculum supports integrated computational thinking and inquiry, how the curriculum influences student perceptions toward computing and science inquiry, and how teacher professional development activities improve their computational thinking and influences their classroom practices. The research will use a variety of research techniques, including think-aloud interviews, surveys, analysis of classroom video, classroom observations and field notes.