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Elementary Students’ Computational Thinking Practice in A Bridge Design and Building Challenge (Fundamental)

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Computational Thinking in Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering 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 learning, instructional strategies and online course design, and strategies for teaching difficult and complex science and engineering concepts.

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Youngkyun Baek Boise State University

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Dr. Baek has been a professor of educational technology at Boise State University since 2011. He teaches ‘Digital Engagement for Learning’, ‘Digital Game Design for K-12 Classrooms’, ‘Advanced Educational Game Design’, and ‘Autonomous Robotics for Teaching and Learning’. Dr. Baek has published several editions on game-based learning and written articles on digital and mobile learning games. His research interests are digital game design, mobile learning games, and new media & computational thinking. Currently he is developing Robotics and Games in Minecraft for computational thinking enhancement of students.

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Bhaskar Chittoori P.E. 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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William H. Stewart Boise State University Orcid 16x16

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A doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Technology.

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Jeanette Wing describes computational thinking (CT) as a skill set everyone would want to learn and use. Grover and Pea echo Wing’s perspective and describe CT as a competency that encompasses various thinking skills for problem solving including abstraction, decomposition, evaluation, and logic and algorithm design. Subsequently, CT practice refers to the approaches which students use to solve problems as well as an exhibition of a competency along with other critical thinking needed for problem-solving.

In an effort to describes the problem-solving behaviors and approaches students exhibit and use, we include CT language and terminology, such as variables, data and modeling, in CT practices, which is in line with the “thinking like a <domain expert> notion”. Our CT practice consists of using CT terminology and approaches for problem solving.

The National Research Council (NRC) highlights the use of mathematics and CT as part of the core practices for the scientific and engineering practices in its framework for K-12 science education. However, little research has been conducted on how students practice CT in their engineering practice. This study examined upper level elementary students’ CT practice while they were engaged in an engineering design challenge. The research question was: How do students practice CT while they are engaged in a bridge design and building challenge?

The Bridge Design and Building Challenge was an eight-week scientific inquiry and engineering design program. Scientific knowledge and engineering concepts (e.g., earthquakes, bridges) were introduced in the first four weeks. The engineering design challenge (e.g., developing possible solutions and building prototypes) began in the fifth week when students designed and built an earthquake-resistant bridge and prepared for the final competition. Each of the K’Nex pieces had an associated price tag, which the students used to keep track of the cost while building their bridges for the final competition. In the eighth week, students competed for the best bridge design. To win the competition, the team had to design a bridge that met the design specifications, passed the pre-determined earthquake testing criteria, and cost the least.

The Bridge Challenge was to engage students in practicing CT through scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thirty-six students in grades 4th to 6th participated in the Bridge challenge in small groups of three to four facilitated by one teacher in an afterschool program with two ninety-minute sessions per week for eight weeks.

Students working in small groups were video recorded and recordings were analyzed. Students’ artifacts such as drawings and sketches of their design were also collected. Results showed students practiced various CT during their scientific inquiry and engineering challenge, such as data collection, data analysis, abstraction, communication, simulation and modeling, and decomposition. The study contributes to the teaching and integration of CT into K-12 science and engineering education.

Yang, D., & Baek, Y., & Chittoori, B., & Stewart, W. H. (2019, June), Elementary Students’ Computational Thinking Practice in A Bridge Design and Building Challenge (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32700

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