San Marcos,
12:31 PM

$1.2 Million NSF Grant Could Change How Science and Technology is Taught in Public Schools

A trio of Cal State San Marcos professors have secured a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant that could change the way science and technology is taught in public schools and boost the success rate in those subjects for students from underrepresented communities.

The title of the project may sound complex—Quality Understanding and Engagement for Students and Teachers on Computational Thinking—but the theory behind the effort is simple: start building the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills of students while they’re young so that they can tackle increasingly complex subjects as they progress through school.

“We want to look at refining the pedagogy and the curriculum to incorporate more computational thinking in the classroom so that students can become creators of technology and not just consumers of technology,” said Youwen Ouyang, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems who is the principal investigator and director of the project.

Ouyang is working with School of Education Professor Emeritus Katherine Hayden and School of Education Assistant Professor Sinem Siyahhan. They are now refining their research plan and developing a curriculum for fifth- and sixth-grade teachers at the Escondido Union School District, the Santee School District, the Encinitas Union School District and the Cardiff School District. Teachers taking part in the research study will go through an orientation program in May.

The project also includes an after-school component which Siyahhan says will play a pivotal role. Siyahhan is on the cutting edge of utilizing video games to support STEM teaching and learning, and she is the founding director of Play2Connect, a service oriented research initiative that aims to support family learning, communication and connection through gaming. Afterschool components in the project include a summer camp, afterschool clubs and family events designed to support student interest and attitudes.

According to the National Science Foundation, the project will contribute to the understanding of what it takes to empower fifth- and sixth-grade teachers as designers of computational learning opportunities for students from underrepresented groups and how a combination of both formal and informal learning experiences support the needs of underrepresented populations in STEM and computing.

With a conservative estimate of 28 students per teacher per year, the project is expected to directly impact more than 1,000 students as 18 project teachers implement computational teaching-integrated science lessons into classroom activities over two years.

Computational thinking and learning is often associated with the development of computer applications, but it can also be used to support problem solving across all disciplines, including math and science. Students adept in computational thinking across the curriculum can begin to see a relationship between various subjects.

“We want students to take the computational thinking skills that are used in computer programming and transfer them to other areas to make them better problem solvers,” said Hayden. “We’re asking teachers to step back and ask students what’s important to know in a particular problem, what data do I need to look at, why is that data important, and why am I analyzing it this way.”

Hayden and Ouyang have collaborated on projects funded by the National Science Foundation in the past. The two were awarded a three-year $1.49 million grant in 2009 to help middle school teachers expand their expertise in science and technology to better educate, engage and inspire their students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1543258. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.