BPEC: Computational Thinking in STEM: A Whole-School Model for Broadening Participation and Education in Computing

Project: Research project

Project Details


Computer science education in the US faces two interrelated challenges. First, our education system is not producing enough software developers to fill both current and projected demand. Second, women and minorities remain significantly underrepresented in schools and in the workforce. Fortunately, there are a number of efforts underway to address these challenges including pending legislation that would elevate computer science to a core science discipline and efforts to make CS a requirement for high school graduation. These efforts focus on developing a new sequence of CS courses leading to a redesigned AP CS course.
However, the success of a redesigned CS course sequence may be diminished by: (1) the ability to train and retain qualified teachers; and (2) the ability to attract diverse students who may not understand the relevance of CS for their future career directions. There is a danger than an opt-in course sequence could further skew the participation rates for underrepresented students. Even if CS is made a requirement for graduation, there is still a risk that students will come to see CS courses the way many view required math courses: As something that adults tell them is important but for which they see little use for or connection to real world.
We propose a Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR) project to develop a model in which computational thinking curriculum is embedded throughout required biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics course work. This would ensure that every high school student is exposed to computational thinking activities in a context that demonstrates its relevance to real world career paths and creates exciting new ways for students to engage in inquiry activities. Our project would work intensively with two Chicago Public High Schools, one majority African American and one majority Latino. Our intent is to develop and share practical knowledge of whole-school implementations of such an approach working within the substantial constraints of large, resource-limited public high schools. Our project builds on our existing NSF CE21 grant CNS-1138461 and includes the following core components:
1. We will identify and train a small number of teacher leaders in each of the core STEM disciplines. These CT-Fellow teachers will be responsible for training teachers in their respective departments. For this component we will use existing professional development modules that we developed through our existing CE21 grant. These modules will be augmented with online materials to support independent classroom implementation.
2. STEM teachers will implement three CT activities in their classrooms and administer corresponding assessments and attitudinal surveys. The curriculum, assessments, and survey instruments were developed through our existing CE21 grant.
3. We will run a pilot computational thinking club (CT-Club) program for high school girls. This club will meet once or twice a month and will support in-class computational thinking activities, highlight women role models in STEM fields, and raise awareness of CT career paths for women.
Broader Impacts: This project will directly impact hundreds of underrepresented high school students, building competence in computational thinking skills and highlighting STEM career paths. It will further train teachers in CT skills and give them experience implementing CT activities in their classrooms. Finally, it will develop essential practical knowledge and best practices for a much larger scale implementation of this approach.
Intellectual Merit:
Effective start/end date9/1/148/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (CNS-1441041)


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