Adding Computational Thinking Components to the High-School Science Curriculum to Broaden Participation in Computational Science

Project: Research project

Project Details


While computing has dramatically transformed science research and practice, it remains a separate and distinct area of study in almost all pre-college education contexts. This means we are missing a critical opportunity to prepare young people to approach scientific inquiry in computationally sophisticated ways and to see computational thinking and STEM (CT-STEM) as synergistic and integrated rather than separate and distinct. Our prior work produced a taxonomy of CT-STEM practices based on interviews with computational scientists. This guided our design of science curriculum and assessments. By integrating these practices into required science courses, we have successfully engaged a wide range of students, including those who are underrepresented in computing, and in computational thinking practices. While our taxonomy has been widely used in the field, there is need for further elaboration to encompass a wider range of computational practices. This includes practices for developing algorithms, data mining and visualization, and designing/building computational models. There is also a need to develop curricula that engage students in these additional practices as well as to “cover” more of the high school science curriculum. To help meet this goal, the research team will integrate agent-based modeling software (NetLogo Web) with a block-based form of the software (NetTango) and create seamless interoperation with data analysis, systems dynamics modeling and visualization tools. One benefit of tools like these is that they enable students who do not have experiences with text-based programming to engage in previously inaccessible computational practices. For this project, the research team will partner with teachers from three Chicago-area high schools to “CT-ify” existing science curricula by integrating these additional tools and practices. The project will pursue the following five objectives: (1) Fully integrate NetLogo and NetTango, create seamless interoperation with data analysis, visualization and systems dynamics modeling tools, and offer the integrated software through our web-based platform; (2) build units that cover more of the high school science curriculum and incorporate practices for developing algorithms, data mining, visualization, and designing/building computational models; (3) develop assessments that evaluate students on these practices; (4) test units and assessments in classrooms by collecting student response data through our web-based platform; and (5) investigate students’ engagement in computational thinking practices and characterize the competencies that they bring to their learning and how their practices develop over time.

Intellectual Merit:
The objective of this project is to increase students’ skill in CT-STEM practices and explore how computational representations support significant shifts in the ways students learn and practice science. Findings will include fine-grained characterizations of the competencies students bring to their development of computational thinking practices, in particular competencies for developing algorithms, data mining and visualization, and designing/building agent-based models. These findings will enrich the field’s understanding of the nature and development of CT-STEM practices. This is an important contribution given that investigating CT-STEM practices is still in early stages.

Broader Impacts:
Our society faces a pressing need to train future scientists who understand and make use of CT-STEM practices to address the complex and increasingly da
Effective start/end date11/15/1810/31/21


  • National Science Foundation (DRL-1842374)

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