Computational Modeling in the Elementary Science Classroom
Dickes, Amanda Catherine
In recent years, leading educational scholars have argued for computational thinking to be an essential focus of K12 curriculum. Although now incorporated as an essential concept for STEM education, research has shown that curricular integration of computational thinking and modeling is a complex and challenging endeavor which involves the introduction and adoption of new literacies to both teachers and students, alongside disciplinary ideas and practices that students already find challenging to understand. This three-paper dissertation addresses the challenge of merging computational thinking and modeling with elementary science curricula along three dimensions – material, cognitive and social - by investigating how students and the classroom teacher make use of forms of activity that integrate agent-based computational modeling with other forms of scientific modeling to support the co-development of scientific and computational literacy in the elementary classroom. The first paper examines the close-interplay between the material and cognitive dimensions by investigating the forms of reasoning fourth graders utilized to develop more expert-like explanations of predator-prey relationships and population change due to natural selection after interacting with an agent-based model. The second paper elaborates on the interplay between the material and cognitive dimensions as well as extends the work conducted in the first paper by investigating how computational modeling is enhanced through its integration with other material forms, specifically with scientific modeling. The role of the teacher in re-shaping the structure of activity, and how those re-shapings influenced the knowledge that developed during activity was an additional component of this work. The third paper takes a more integrative stance and investigates the interplay between social, material and cognitive dimensions of emerging computational and scientific literacies through the development of sociomathematical norms across several months of activity. This paper advances an argument that the teacher’s emphasis on mathematizing and measurement as key forms of learning activities helped to meaningfully establish computation as the “language” of science in the elementary classroom. As a set, this work contributes to our understanding of how computational thinking and programming can transform elementary science education. Together, these papers illustrate how integration of computation as a language of science in the elementary classroom involves careful consideration of the complex interplay between materials, both computational and non-computational, cognition and classroom culture and highlights the complex social dimensions that allow (or do not allow) various computational competencies to thrive in a classroom setting.