Computational Thinking (CT) is a relatively new educational focus and a clear need for learners as a 21st century skill. This proposal tackles this challenging new area for young learners, an area greatly in need of research and learning materials. The Principal Investigators will develop and implement integrated STEM+C museum exhibits and integrate CT in their existing engineering design based PictureSTEM curriculum for K-2 students. They will also pilot assessments of the CT components of the PictureSTEM curriculum. This work will make a unique contribution to the available STEM+C learning materials and assessments. There are few such materials for the kindergarten to second grade (K-2) population they will work with. They will research the effects of the curriculum and the exhibits with a mixed methods approach. First, they will collect observational data and conduct case studies to discover the important elements of an integrated STEM+C experience in both the formal in-school setting with the curriculum and in the informal out-of-school setting with families interacting with the museum exhibits. This work will provide a novel way to understand the important question of how in- and out-of-school experiences contribute to the development of STEM and CT thinking and learning. Finally, they will collect data from all participants to discover the ways that their activities lead to increases in STEM+C knowledge and interest.
The Principal Investigators will build on an integrated STEM curriculum by integrating CT and develop integrated museum exhibits. They base both activities on engineering design implemented through challenge based programming activities. They will research and/or develop assessments of both STEM+C integrated thinking and CT. Their research strategy combines Design Based Research and quantitative assessment of the effectiveness of the materials for learning CT. In the first two years of their study, they will engage in iterations on the design of the curriculum and the exhibits based on observation and case-study data. There will be 16 cases that draw from each grade level and involve data collection for the case student in both schools and museums. They will also use this work to illuminate what integrated STEM+C thinking and learning looks like across formal and informal learning environments. Based in some part on what they discover in this first phase, they will conduct the quantitative assessments with all (or at least most) students participating in the study
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