Another paper based on the CT4EDU project is now available in Education and Information Technologies. This paper, written in collaboration with Aman Yadav and Rachel Larimore, presents an analysis of the classroom video we collected during the first year of the project. Each of our partner teachers implemented at least one unplugged math or science lesson in the 2018-2019 school year where they had intentionally planned to include attention to one or more computational thinking (CT) practices (abstraction, decomposition, patterns, or debugging). We coded the videos in an effort to make sense of how these teachers translated the CT ideas into their teaching practice.
(Note that this link will take you to a free, read-only online version. If you would like a preprint feel free to contact me.)
We found a lot of interesting and rich variation in the ways these teachers provided opportunities for their students to engage in CT. They used three primary strategies to do so:
- They framed lessons around a CT practice. For example, one teacher introduced a science activity by pointing out how students would be engaging in debugging as they tested and refined the design of their rubber-band rockets.
- They prompted students to use a CT practice in the moment. For example, it was common for one teacher to suggest that students stop and look for patterns as they worked through a math task.
- They invited reflection on CT by pointing out or highlighting occurrences of CT that had already happened. For example, at the end of a math lesson, one teacher asked students to think of examples of how they had used abstraction during the lesson.
While most teachers used all three of these strategies at some point in their lessons, they ways in which they combined the strategies varied. We grouped our teachers into four profiles to highlight they ways in which they incorporated CT through use of the strategies:
- Some teachers frequently used all three strategies, and tended to reference all four of the CT practices during the course of a lesson. These teachers seemed to want to support students in seeing the CT practices as general and widely applicable problem-solving strategies.
- Other teachers tended to focus their lessons on one practice, often connecting their within-lesson prompting to pre-lesson framing or post-lesson reflection opportunities. They seemed to want to provide multiple extended opportunities for students to use one practice in a single lesson.
- One teacher seemed to use CT more as a tool to guide her own thinking about a lesson than to communicate anything particular about CT to students. She did not use the CT vocabulary often, although she asked questions and directed discussions that seemed to be aimed at helping students engage in the higher-level thinking involved in CT.
- Finally, one teacher mostly relied on in-the-moment prompting with little use of the other strategies.
Because we did not collect student data to evaluate the impact of these strategies and profiles of implementation, we worked hard to avoid placing a value judgement on them. Rather, in the discussion, we connected the strategies and profiles to work from other disciplines and reflected on the kinds of professional development that could support teachers in using these or other strategies as the bring CT into their classrooms — particularly CT that is integrated in another subject. I think the primary contribution of this paper is a shift from thinking about how to support teachers in learning about CT to thinking about how to support teachers to use CT thoughtfully in the context of their classrooms.
I hope others find the paper interesting and useful. I enjoyed writing this one, and my prolonged engagement with the video made me all the more appreciative of teachers.