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Board 70 : Work in Progress: Integrating Computational Thinking in STEM Education through a Project-based Learning Approach

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Computers in Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Dazhi Yang Boise State University

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Dazhi Yang is an Associate Professor at Boise State University. Her research lies at the intersection of STEM education and technology-supported learning. Her current research focuses on integrating computational thinking in STEM education, instructional strategies and online course design for STEM; instructional strategies for teaching difficult and complex science and engineering concepts.

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Steve R. Swasnon


Bhaskar B. C. Chittoori Boise State University

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Dr. Bhaskar Chittoori received his bachelor's degree from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Kakinada, India in 2002 and master's degree from National Institute of Technology Karnataka, Surathkal, India in 2004. He received his Ph.D. degree in 2008 from the University of Texas at Arlington. After his Ph.D. he worked at Parsons Brinckerhoff, a well renowned civil engineering design firm, in their Dallas office. Dr. Chittoori joined as Assistant Professor in Geotechnical Engineering area of the Civil Engineering Department of Boise State University in the fall of 2013.; His research interests are clay mineral quantification, sustainability assessment, advanced soil testing and interpretation, soil stabilization, soil reinforcement, pavement materials characterization along with finite element modeling of soil systems. He has published articles in ASCE Geotechnical Journal, ASTM Soil Testing Journal, Transportation Research Board Records, International Conferences on Soil Mechanic Related Topics, ASCE conferences. He is a member of ASCE sustainability committee, TRB Bridges and Foundation's committee. He is a licensed civil engineer in the state of Texas and a member of Chi Epsilon and Tau Beta Pi honor societies.

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Youngkyun Baek Boise State University

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Computational thinking (CT) consists of “a set of thinking skills, habits and approaches that are integral to solving complex problems" (Lee et al., 2011, p. 33). While this is a fundamental skill for all students (Wing, 2006), it is widely missing in K-12 curricula (NRC, 2011c; Lye & Koh, 2014). Research on the development of computational thinking in K-12 students has not received as much attention as that of student mathematical thinking and scientific reasoning (Lye & Koh, 2014). Thus, there is an immediate need to integrate CT into K-12 education. Due to links between CT and the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), such as problem solving and scientific reasoning (Sengupta, Kinnebrew, Biswas, & Clark, 2012), the development of CT in students is highly relevant to their STEM learning (NSB, 2010).

This study reports the design and development of a project-based, integrated STEM +C (STEM+ Computing) curriculum for 4th to 6th grade students in community centers' after-school programs. The study also reports the preliminary outcome of the implementation of such a curriculum.

Theoretical Framework

The design and development of the integrated STEM+C curriculum was guided by a project-based learning (PBL) approach. PBL approach enables the design of engaging, inquiry activities that give students the opportunity to investigate authentic topics or problems and participate in learning processes through active creation of products (BIE, 2016). In PBL, all learning activities and objectives are driven by an overall guiding question. Hands-on elements (e.g., creating products) are embedded within project-based learning, offering opportunities for real world, problem solving.

Research Design

The context of the study was in the after-school programs at two community centers serving two Title I schools respectively. Thirty-six 4th to 6th grade students and six teachers were recruited to participate in the study. The STEM+C curriculum was implemented with the recruited students and teachers in small groups of six students with one teacher per group, twice per week for a total of eight weeks. STEM+C Curriculum

The STEM+C curriculum consisted of two project-based learning projects. One was Life on Mars and the other was Building Earthquake Resistant Bridges. Both projects had an overall guiding question and sub-questions that were the driver of the learning objectives and learning activities of each project. Both projects were also designed to invigorate students to learn and integrate science, engineering, and technology to solve the overall driving question.

Data Collection

Multiple types of data were collected from students, including student survey, video recordings of students of eight weeks, students’ work, notes and products, and focus group interviews to understand student learning and triangulate the data.


The preliminary survey outcome showed no significant difference regarding students’ confidence and efficacy in STEM except that the student’s confidence and efficacy in math in the Life on Mars group increased after the 8-week program. However, discourse analysis of video recordings using Sfard’s (2008) discursive framework indicated that students exhibited a range of complexity and variation in computational thinking during their scientific reasoning (how student solve problems and why). Thus a deeper investigation of students’ thinking is warranted.

Yang, D., & Swasnon, S. R., & Chittoori, B. B. C., & Baek, Y. (2018, June), Board 70 : Work in Progress: Integrating Computational Thinking in STEM Education through a Project-based Learning Approach Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30091

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