Academic journal article Science and Children

Computer Science Unplugged: Second-Grade Students Design a Puppy Playground Using Computational Thinking

Academic journal article Science and Children

Computer Science Unplugged: Second-Grade Students Design a Puppy Playground Using Computational Thinking

Article excerpt

Computational thinking (CT) is a fundamental skill for all and not just for computer scientists. Computational thinking can provide a basis for problem solving, for making evidence-based decisions, and for learning to code or create programs. Therefore, it is critical that all students across the K-12 continuum--including students in the early grades--have opportunities to begin developing problem solving and computational thinking skills. With that in mind, we have designed an engineering design activity to engage children in kindergarten through second grade in computational thinking (see Table 1 for a description of computational thinking competencies). This 30-minute play-based activity entails a task in which children create a safe play space for Eva's puppy. The activity was implemented in an informal learning setting with the presence of adults. Adults apply strategies that aid children as they employ computational thinking throughout the task. This same activity can also be used in school settings.

Computational Thinking Integration

Computational thinking (CT) has been defined by researcher Jeanette Wing as involving "solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science" (Wing 2006, p. 33). Although computational thinking is central to computer science, CT skills, such as abstraction, problem decomposition, algorithmic thinking, pattern recognition, and debugging cut across multiple disciplines, promoting seamless integration in science and engineering (Wing 2016). Engineering design can be a context and approach for fostering computational thinking in formal and informal settings for elementary-age children. Through such learning experiences children can develop 21st-century skills vital for success in STEM+CT (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, computer science) careers. In this article, we share an engineering design activity that we employed to engage kindergarten to second-grade students in STEM+CT.

Informal learning activities offer children enrichment opportunities that supplement traditional classroom learning, which is often limited by certain constraints. Informal settings also facilitate the development of engineering skills among K-12 students (Dorie, Cardella, and Svarovsky 2014). Engineering can support and promote computational thinking in elementary aged children as engineering design provides context (NRC 2011). We developed and implemented the 30-minute Puppy Playground Challenge activity (Figure 1, p. 58) to expose students to computational thinking in an informal learning setting and conducted research to examine children's engagement in different CT competencies (Ehsan and Cardella 2017). The activity took place at a local science center in Indiana and was implemented during a second-grade class field trip to the science center. Several activities were set up for them to rotate through; one was the Puppy Playground, an informal play-based activity. Upon arrival to the science center, the students were reminded of the rules: no running or pushing, and to work with and respect each other. The students were then spilt into teams of four predetermined by their classroom teacher and diverse in regard to gender and academic abilities. ESL accommodations were not necessary for this group of students, as all students spoke English. However, differentiation strategies were considered when designing and implementing the activity. The task was presented through a sign with large and simplified text and an image of a puppy. Moreover, the adults facilitated the activity by asking questions to make sure everyone in each group understood the task. Large foam blocks were set up in an open play area (Figure 2) in the science center. Children could easily access the blocks and build together.

As children engaged in designing their puppy playground, they employed skills such as teamwork, creative problem-solving, and effective communication to design the puppy playground. …

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