Summary: “Infusing Computational Thinking into the Middle and High-School Curriculum”

This article discusses a project that was used to introduce and improve computational thinking in curriculum for middle and high school students. The project, Computational Thinking across the Curriculum Project, changed six courses at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. The project started at the undergraduate level and was then expanded to the secondary school level. Each discipline used a different approach in the classes. The teachers focused on specific elements of their course to emphasize computational thinking in a unique and interdisciplinary way. The English course used it to improve the generalization process and the close reading of text using various Shakespeare pieces. In the History course the focus was note taking an essential skill in history classes. The activities included using abstraction, evaluation and recollection. The Latin course used it as an attempt to improve the language learning process. In the Graphic Arts class a lesson was implemented for the students to learn about the prototype and design packaging process. All of the disciplines reported on their successes and challenges. Some challenges included student participation, student ability difference and the difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of the new curriculum. Successes included the teachers being given the opportunity to work together as well as giving teachers a way to approach diverse student populations. In the end, the project proved how much work is still to be done, but provides a worthwhile area for work and effort.

Notes I took while reading:

  • Computational thinking defined by Jeannette Wing – “the thought processes involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information-processing agent” 22
  • NSF CPATH – CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education Program
  • 22 – “The potential of any approach to integrating computational thinking into the curriculum will be limited by a focus on undergraduate education. A much greater impact can be obtained by modifying the K-12 curriculum to include a stronger emphasis on computational thinking.
  • “Focusing on high school is a good start but may not be the ultimate goal since motivational concerns need to be addressed as early as middle school, particularly for girls and underrepresented minorities.”- 22
  • “During the next two years we worked both with teachers trained in computer science and with teachers in the language and visual arts and humanities to develop computational thinking activities and assessments for their courses.”- 23
  • “According to [Peter] Denning, the Great Principles of Computing are: computation, communication, coordination, recollection, automation, evaluation, and design.” – 23
  • 2008-2009 ten faculty from the Collee of Computing and Digital Media worked to modify courses from cryptography to screenwriting to highlight and include computational thinking activities and assignments. – 23
  • 2009-2010 eight additional faculty from College of Liberal Arts and Sciences joined and developed materials for courses in the sciences and humanities
  • “In an extension of the project funded through Research Experience for Teachers (RET) supplement from NSF three teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools extend the project into the K-12 curriculum in the academic year 2010-2011. “ 23
  • Enrollment is almost 1800 from nursery to 12 with 44% students of color. 200 faculty
  • Middle and High School CS courses along with Latin course modified. 2011-2012 3 more teachers joined adding graphic arts, English and history.
  • English – unit involving Shakespeare. Close reading of the text based on an examination of word choice, imagery, and syntax.
    • Computational thinking in text analysis process
  • History – activities used in 11th and 12th grade American history class in order to improve note taking skills
    • Improve note-taking, improve active-listening, recognize difference between homework and studying, improve recall skills
  • Latin – implement 3 exercises for learning Latin that require and encourage computational thinking: grammar notation, sentence diagramming, and metaphrasing.
    • Unforeseen difficulties in implementing these activities
  • Graphic Design – students design a prototype for an object to be printed using a 3D printer off site, as well as design packaging for the item.
  • Middle School – creative writing assignment with an implementation in Logo to create an interactive, text-based adventure game
    • Students write their stories in the language arts class with the homeroom teacher and then bring the stories to the computer science classroom, where they learned how to use Logo to turn their stories into an interactive, text-based game.
    • Students struggled conceptually with creating a coherent, non-linear story and project is not very portable, since students do not have the MicroWorlds software at home.
    • There were positive outcomes too. Collaboration between teachers, other teachers have been contacted to collaborate on interdisciplinary projects.
  • High School Computer Science – students taught some basics of programming in Python. Prior to programming unit, students did CS Unplugged activities, learned about the history of computing, and created some web pages with HTML and CSS in order to make students familiar with how computational solutions to problems are implemented in a real language.
    • Student spit into two groups, roughly even in number and gender
    • They produced the same programs and output but were instructed differently
    • First groups – worked examples approach
    • Second group – modified examples approach
    • Modified examples worked well for larger groups, but worked examples worked for the smaller groups due to it being more of a conversation and group effort
  • Project identified a number of challenges in implementing computational thinking activities into the 5-12 curriculum, including student participation, differences in student ability, and the difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of the new activities. – 27


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