Foregrounding Agency Versus Structure as Models for Designing Integrated Mathematics and Computational Thinking Curriculum

This project will design and study new learning environments integrating mathematical and computational thinking. The project will examine how to design learning modules that place mathematics concepts. By exploring how different kinds of designs support learning and engagement, the project will establish a set of design principles for supporting mathematical and computational thinking.

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Award Number: 
1742257
Funding Period: 
Friday, September 1, 2017 to Monday, August 31, 2020
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Full Description: 

The project will design and study new learning environments integrating mathematical and computational thinking. While integrating content has been suggested as a strategy for students' learning, there has been limited investigation about how mathematics and computational thinking should be connected in learning experiences. Computational thinking is an essential skill for STEM careers including concepts such as algorithms and programming, data collection and analysis, using abstractions, and problem solving. These computational thinking concepts and practices can be related to mathematics concepts. This project will examine how to design learning modules that place mathematics concepts. By exploring how different kinds of designs support learning and engagement, the project will establish a set of design principles for supporting mathematical and computational thinking.

Using design-based research as a methodology to support iterative design and research, the project will explore two core tensions that are relevant to the integration of mathematics and computational thinking. Each tension deals with how to balance competing goals, and investigates the influence of foregrounding one goal over another. Specifically, the project will design, test, and begin to apply in schools a set of modules that contrast: 1) foregrounding mathematics vs. computational thinking; and 2) foregrounding agency vs. structure. The model of implementation includes two summers of camp sessions for middle school students, and a year of implementation in classrooms, thus allowing exploration beyond the potential for math and computational thinking to be integrated, and extending into what such integration looks like in the institutional context of schools. The research questions to be investigated include: (1) What are the advantages of modules that teach mathematics through computational thinking (foregrounding mathematics) vs. those that teach computational thinking through mathematics (foregrounding computational thinking)? (2) What are the advantages of modules that teach computational thinking through open exploration (agency) vs. game play (structure)? (3) What kinds of instructional supports do math teachers need or request as they are teaching students at the intersection of computational thinking and mathematics? The project will result in (a) a set of instructional sequences for middle school that propose productive intersections of computational thinking and mathematics, (b) an understanding of how and why these instructional sequences support diverse participation, and (c) conjectures about the support math teachers need to integrate computational thinking in their classrooms. Different sections for students will be created to compare different conditions that will foreground mathematics, computational thinking, structure or agency. Data collected will include measures of student learning, interviews, analysis of student work, and video analysis to examine student engagement and interest.

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