Scaffolding Computational Thinking

Teacher with African-American male student and white female student at whiteboard

Understanding the complexity of the natural world is empowering, as it provides us with a sense that we can make a difference and solve difficult problems to make the world better. Being able to engage in civil discourse about how to effect change requires an understanding of systems, of how the components of a system can interact and produce emergent behavior that is more than the sum of its parts. This is systems modeling at its core and it is a powerful lens for viewing the world around us.  

Models are critical tools that allow scientists and students to make sense of phenomena, solve problems, and share ideas. Therefore, the modeling practice, which includes constructing, using, evaluating, and revising models, should be a significant component of every student’s education. Through model building, scientists and learners engage in computational thinking practices.

This project focuses on the integration of systems thinking, modeling, and computational thinking to support secondary students to engage in and learn critical science ideas. Systems thinking and modeling are critical to addressing some of our most challenging scientific and societal problems. Climate change, human health and physiology, managing the growing computational infrastructure in our interconnected world, and the planning and building of cities and communities are all examples of problems that require a systems approach. Each of these examples involves multiple interacting components, often with feedback between them, making them challenging to understand. There is little research on how students’ modeling practice or computational thinking develops in the context of creating their own system models and even less about how to support teachers in effectively utilizing a system model-based approach to teaching and learning.

The focus of this project is on how students develop their modeling practice and engage in computational thinking over time and through multiple contexts of increasing complexity. It will also consider what kinds of professional supports are needed for teachers to be successful in facilitating student exploration of phenomena through engagement in systems modeling. 

This work is generously funded by the National Science Foundation. 

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