Exploring Early Childhood Teachers' Abilities to Identify Computational Thinking Precursors to Strengthen Computer Science in Classrooms

This project will explore PK-2 teachers' content knowledge by investigating their understanding of the design and implementation of culturally relevant computer science learning activities for young children. The project team will design a replicable model of PK-2 teacher professional development to address the lack of research in early computer science education.

Full Description: 

Strengthening computer science education is a national priority with special attention to increasing the number of teachers who can deliver computer science education in schools. Yet computer science education lacks the evidence to determine how teachers come to think about computational thinking (a problem-solving process) and how it could be integrated within their day-to-day classroom activities. For teachers of pre-kindergarten to 2nd (PK-2) grades, very little research has specifically addressed teacher learning. This oversight challenges the achievement of an equitable, culturally diverse, computationally empowered society. The project team will design a replicable model of PK-2 teacher professional development in San Marcos, Texas, to address the lack of research in early computer science education. The model will emphasize three aspects of teacher learning: a) exploration of and reflection on computer science and computational thinking skills and practices, b) noticing and naming computer science precursor skills and practices in early childhood learning, and c) collaborative design, implementation and assessment of learning activities aligned with standards across content areas. The project will explore PK-2 teachers' content knowledge by investigating their understanding of the design and implementation of culturally relevant computer science learning activities for young children. The project includes a two-week computational making and inquiry institute focused on algorithms and data in the context of citizen science and historical storytelling. The project also includes monthly classroom coaching sessions, and teacher meetups.

The research will include two cohorts of 15 PK-2 teachers recruited from the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD) in years one and two of the project. The project incorporates a 3-phase professional development program to be run in two cycles for each cohort of teachers. Phase one (summer) includes a 2-week Computational Making and Inquiry Institute, phase two (school year) includes classroom observations and teacher meetups and phase three (late spring) includes an advanced computational thinking institute and a community education conference. Research and data collection on impacts will follow a mixed-methods approach based on a grounded theory design to document teachers learning. The mixed-methods approach will enable researchers to triangulate participants' acquisition of new knowledge and skills with their developing abilities to implement learning activities in practice. Data analysis will be ongoing, interweaving qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative data, including field notes, observations, interviews, and artifact assessments, will be analyzed by identifying analytical categories and their relationships. Quantitative data includes pre to post surveys administered at three-time points for each cohort. Inter-item correlations and scale reliabilities will be examined, and a repeated measures ANOVA will be used to assess mean change across time for each of five measures. Project results will be communicated via peer-reviewed journals, education newsletters, annual conferences, family and teacher meetups, and community art and culture events, as well as on social media, blogs, and education databases.

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