Introducing Computational Thinking Practices in Learning Science of Elementary Schools [Research-in-Progress]

Gilad Shamir, Dina Tsybulsky, Ilya Levin
InSITE 2019  •  2019  •  pp. 187-205
Aim/Purpose: Science is becoming a computational endeavor therefore Computational Thinking (CT) is gradually being accepted as a required skill for the 21st century science student. Students deserve relevant conceptual learning accessible through practical, constructionist approaches in cross-curricular applications therefore it is required for educators to define, practice and assess practical ways of introducing CT to science education starting from elementary school.

Background: Computational Thinking is a set of problem-solving skills evolving from the computer science field. This work-in-progress research assesses the CT skills, along with science concepts, of students participating in a science program in school. The program pertains learning science by modeling and simulating real world phenomenon using an agent-based modeling practice.

Methodology: This is an intervention research of a science program. It takes place as part of structured learning activities of 4th and 5th grade classes which are teacher-guided and are conducted in school. Both qualitative and quantitative evaluations are parts of the mixed methods research methodology using a variety of evaluation technique, including pretests and posttests, surveys, artifact-based interviews, in class observations and project evaluations.

Contribution: CT is an emerging skill in learning science. It is requiring school systems to give increased attention for promoting students with the opportunity to engage in CT activities alongside with ways to promote a deeper understanding of science. Currently there is a lack of practical ways to do so and lack of methods to assess the results therefore it is an educational challenge. This paper presents a response to this challenge by proposing a practical program for school science courses and an assessment method.

Findings: This is a research in progress which finding are based on a pilot study. The researches believe that findings may indicate improved degree of students' science understanding and problem-solving skills.

Recommendations for Practitioners: Formulating computer simulations by students can have great potential on learning science with embedded CT skills. This approach could enable learners to see and interact with visualized representations of natural phenomena they create. Although most teachers do not learn about CT in their initial education, it is of paramount importance that such programs, as the one described in this research, will assist teachers with the opportunity to introduce CT into science studies.

Recommendation for Researchers: Scientific simulation design in primary school is at its dawn. Future research investment and investigation should focus on assessment of aspects of the full Computational Thinking for Science taxonomy. In addition, to help teachers assess CT skills, new tools and criteria are required.

Impact on Society: STEM related professions are lacking the man power required therefore the full potential of the economy of developed countries is not fulfilled. Having students acquire computational thinking skills through formal education may prepare the next generation of world class scientists and attract larger populations to these fields.

Future Research: The inclusion of computational thinking as a core scientific practice in the Next Generation Science Standards is an important milestone, but there is still much work to do toward addressing the challenge of CT-Science education to grow a generation of technologically and scientifically savvy individuals. New comprehensive approaches are needed to cope with the complexity of cognitive processes related to CT.
computational thinking, science education, agent-based modeling and simula-tion, computational science, computational practices
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