Accessible Computational Thinking in Elementary Science Classes within and across Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Contexts (Collaborative Research: Nelson)

This research project aims to enhance elementary teacher education in science and computational thinking pedagogy through the use of Culturally Relevant Teaching, i.e. teaching in ways that are relevant to students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The project will support 60 elementary teachers in summer professional development and consistent learning opportunities during the school year to learn about and enact culturally relevant computational thinking into their science instruction.

Full Description

Currently, students who are white, affluent, and identify as male tend to develop a greater interest in and pursuit of science and computing-related careers compared to their Black, Latinx, Native American, and female-identifying peers. Yet, science, computing, and computational thinking drive societal decision-making and problem-solving. The lack of cultural and racial diversity in science and computing-related careers can lead to societal systems and decision-making structures that fail to consider a wide range of perspectives and expertise. Teachers play a critical role in preparing students to develop these skills and succeed in a technological and scientific world. For this reason, it is crucial to investigate how teachers can help culturally and linguistically diverse students develop a greater understanding of and interest in science and computers. This research project aims to enhance elementary teacher education in science and computational thinking pedagogy through the use of Culturally Relevant Teaching, i.e. teaching in ways that are relevant to students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The project will support 60 elementary teachers in summer professional development and consistent learning opportunities during the school year to learn about and enact culturally relevant computational thinking into their science instruction. In doing so, the project aims to increase both the quantity and quality of computing experiences for all elementary students and support NSF’s commitment in broadening participation in the STEM workforce. The project will also produce resources, measures, and tools to support elementary teachers to do this kind of work, which will be shared with other STEM researchers and teacher educators.

The goal of this research project is to design and promote teaching practices that integrate computational thinking in the elementary science classroom in culturally relevant ways. This project will seek to empower practicing elementary teachers’ approaches to meaningfully and effectively integrate and adapt computational thinking into their regular science teaching practice so that all students can access the curriculum. It will also explore the impact of these approaches on student learning and self-efficacy. The scope of this project will include working with multiple highly distinct school settings in Maryland, Arizona, and Washington DC across three years, reaching approximately 60 elementary teachers and 1,200 students. To achieve the project objectives, the research team will leverage concurrent mixed methods approaches that include teacher and student interviews, reflections, observations, descriptive case study reports as well as regression and multilevel modeling. The project’s findings will inform the fields’ understanding of: (a) teachers’ conceptualization of computational thinking; (b) the barriers elementary teachers encounter when trying to integrate computational thinking with culturally relevant teaching practices; (c) the types of support that are effective in teacher professional development experiences  and throughout the school year; and (d) the development of a cohort of teachers that can maintain integration efforts in different districts.

Project Materials

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