Michigan State University scholars will help more teachers integrate computational thinking lessons into classrooms, thanks to more than $2 million in research funding.
Professor Aman Yadav is principal investigator on two new grants from the National Science Foundation.
“It is important we provide opportunities for all K-12 students to learn computer science ideas and skills,” said Yadav. “Even with computing becoming a crucial driver of innovation and creativity, not enough students get an opportunity to learn it.”
Various reasons may impact if or how schools offer such classes, including lack of funding or prioritized subjects, Yadav said. This research is looking to change that.
“I believe integrating computer science ideas into core teaching subjects using computational thinking is a way to engage all students in concepts that are central to computer science.”
Bringing CS and CT into the special education classroom
In one study, Yadav is working with MSU Special Education Professor Emily Bouck and University of Florida’s Maya Israel to bring computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT) into special education classrooms.
The nearly $300,000 grant will help special education teacher candidates learn computational thinking by “engaging them in computing tools and ideas to help them bring CS to their students,” said Yadav, director of the M.A. in Educational Technology (MAET) program.
During the nearly two-year study, the scholars will work to expose future special education teachers to CS/CT, and teaching the future educators how to embed both into their everyday classrooms by revising a special education mathematics methods course.
The study will also explore how CT could be introduced within teacher preparation coursework.
“Preservice special education teachers already have so many requirements to obtain licensure, so it’s unrealistic to add new curricula to their schedule,” said Bouck. “This research will explore how these teachers can be given exposure to CS and CT ideas into their existing program, which we believe will help expose students with disabilities and struggling students to CS and CT.”
Working across disciplines
Another NSF-funded project will develop teacher capacity to incorporate computational thinking in middle school classrooms.
The goal: Give teachers the support and access they need to understand CT concepts, then develop a scalable model to help teachers design, implement and continue CT-enriched lessons. Specifically, the $1.7 million study will examine how CT could be incorporated into social studies, English and art classrooms in Michigan and New York.
“We will work with disciplinary experts and teachers to co-design lessons that bring computational thinking practices using both unplugged, or without computers, and computationally rich activities,” said Yadav, who is working with two educational organizations, Telos Learning and Mouse, on the three-year study.
The project will create and share methods and tools teachers can use to incorporate computing across the various disciplines. The project extends the work Yadav has been leading with teachers in Michigan as part of the CT4EDU project and also in New York City that is supported by the Robin Hood Foundation.
“This way,” Yadav explained, “teachers can use CT to both address subject-area learning goals and provide opportunities for students to use computational practices/tools to solve discipline-specific problems.”
In addition, the scholars seek to examine if alternative teacher certifications focused on CT integration might also bolster goals to introduce it earlier, and more often in schooling.
After the study, what the researchers learn could be expanded and scaled to reach classrooms across the nation.