1. Joyce Malyn-Smith
  3. Education Development Center, MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  1. Anne DeMallie
  2. Computer Science and STEM Integration Specialist
  4. MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

CS-STEM-IC (Grades 1–6): Computer Science STEM Integration and Collaboration

NSF Awards: 1543136

2017 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades K-6

In this video, researchers and subject matter experts from Education Development Center (EDC), along with elementary teachers from the state of Massachusetts, explore the optimal intersections of Computational Thinking (CT) with disciplinary practices in elementary science and mathematics lessons. The group will review the teachers’ delivery of an integrated module (I-Mod) developed as part of a project funded by NSF under the STEM+C program.

Throughout the country, there are many efforts to make both computer science (the science that deals with the theory and methods of processing information in computers) and digital literacy (the ability to use digital technology, communication tools, or networks to locate, evaluate, use, and create information) a more important part of all students’ K–12 learning experience. Through this work, EDC, along with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE), has begun to identify promising elementary school mathematics and science topics for integrating with CT, the challenges to teachers of implementing I-Mods with fidelity to both the CT and math/science content, the resources needed at the state level to support teachers’ efforts to address new Digital literacy and Computer Science Standards (DL/CS), and the impact of the I-Mods on elementary students’ CT and teachers understanding of and sense of readiness to teach CT.

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Original Discussion from the 2017 STEM for All Video Showcase
  • Icon for: Anne DeMallie

    Anne DeMallie

    May 15, 2017 | 12:35 a.m.


    Thank you for visiting our video!


    Many people see programming & development as providing important opportunities for developing CT--and for demonstrating CT learning and skill. Our project focuses on integrating  all 5 areas of CT articulated in the MA standards--abstraction, algorithm, data, modeling & simulation, and programming & development-- into science and math lessons. Integrating programming into math or science instruction can be challenging. 


    We're interested in hearing your feedback and answering your questions about the project. In particular, we've been discussing these questions, and would welcome your thoughts: When/what are promising circumstances for introducing programming into instruction in these subject areas? When does the integration of CT deepen students' conceptual understanding in content? When does it take away from the discipline?

  • Icon for: Jennie Lyons

    Jennie Lyons

    May 15, 2017 | 02:42 p.m.

    Great example of modeling/simulation for students in the classroom. Do you have examples of other areas of computational thinking in your project? Also, have you also included computer science in any of the other CT areas?

  • Icon for: Kevin Waterman

    Kevin Waterman

    May 18, 2017 | 01:19 p.m.

    Thanks, Jennie!

    Our primary focus is on four of the five categories of computational thinking from the new Massachusetts DESE Digital Literacy Computer Science standards, which are abstraction, algorithm, modeling and simulation, and data. Our aim is to strongly develop those foundational skills early, and not to duplicate others' efforts in developing programming activities (such as code.org). Some units will include programming components or link to other programs whose existing tasks fit well with the unit.

    We're currently reviewing the materials that were piloted this school year and expect to have a number of them available for review this summer.

  • Icon for: Kip Glazer

    Kip Glazer

    May 15, 2017 | 09:36 p.m.

    What mathematical concepts have you incorporated into this projects and how did you address the skill levels of the students who might struggle with them? 

  • Icon for: Kevin Waterman

    Kevin Waterman

    May 18, 2017 | 01:12 p.m.

    Hi, Kip.


    The project is looking at existing mathematics and science lessons that could naturally demonstrate computational thinking concepts, and we are developing enhancements and additions to further engage students in CT through those disciplinary lessons. So we aren't incorporating mathematics into the units, we are doing the reverse. As such, differentiation among students is part of the underlying curriculum.


    The bulk of our work so far has been based on the MA DESE model curriculum units. The mathematics lessons we’ve worked with in our first cohort are an introductory angles unit in grade 4 and a statistics (mean and median) unit in grade 6. We expect to include at least one mathematics unit and one science unit for each grade, and are exploring ways to promote the work so that it can be easily applied across different curricula (by tying our work to concepts from the standards, for instance).

  • May 16, 2017 | 10:15 a.m.

    Hi Anne and team,

    Your question about when CT enhances learning vs takes away from the discipline is a key one we've discussed in relation to our work, which is about integrating CT into mathematics instruction in K-5. We don't have results that speak to the issue yet (that will be part of our next project), but we've speculated that one way to find integration points where the disciplines enhance each other rather than compete is to use shared or related practices of the disciplines as a lens. So, for example, mathematical and computational modeling both involve the identification of key information to be used in a model. Case-based thinking can be used both in formulating mathematical proofs and in planning computational algorithms.

    This idea of simply highlighting or making explicit similar thinking in the discipline has its dangers, though. Are we really integrating in that case, or merely drawing a few connecting lines?


  • Icon for: Debra Bernstein

    Debra Bernstein

    May 16, 2017 | 11:15 a.m.

    We've wondered about the same thing in our work, and have debated about the definition of integration (in our case, we're integrating robotics into different disciplines).  One way we've thought about it is impact on learning outcomes - has using the principles or practices from one discipline enhanced students' ability to understand the second discipline?  

  • Icon for: Kevin Waterman

    Kevin Waterman

    May 18, 2017 | 02:05 p.m.

    The primary aim of our project is to treat the different aspects of computational thinking more as foundational skills (core-based thinking, in Katie's parlance). As demonstrated in the video, the goals for that lesson were understanding what a model is and its value. Those skills are part of both the Massachusetts Digital Literacy and Computer Science framework and NGSS. In the early grades, that basic understanding isn't significantly different between science and computer science (mathematics is another matter, of course... and a little more nebulous at early grades). As kids get more sophisticated, the concepts do diverge some, and we will address those differences more completely in the later grades.


    Our driving theory is that stronger emphasis on the core CT skills, which in the MA DLCS framework are categorized as abstraction, algorithm, modeling and simulation, and data, would enhance students' ability when working on more explicit programming/computer science skills (such as robotics). Thus, the primary focus of our work is not in writing programming tasks, but in these computational thinking skills. (I should note that we also strongly believe these CT skills have value beyond being a support for programming.)


    Katie's point about integration versus connections is primary in our work. Our goal is to provide a layered approach: 1) draw those connecting lines from within the discipline, 2) provide enhancements to specific lessons or extra lesson components that may more directly address the CT concepts within a unit, and 3) provide or link to extension lessons and activities tied to the disciplinary concept that are more CS focused (programming, robotics, etc.). Our aim is to provide teachers support materials so they can make sense of CT, recognize it at their grade level, and successfully implement those first two layers. We expect that the third layer will be for those teachers who are technology-savvy, have had professional development in CS concepts, or have access to technology support people within their schools. We're also looking at producing a professional development program for teachers in MA as we near completion of the project.

  • May 18, 2017 | 02:27 p.m.

    Thanks, Kevin. This is really helpful. I like the 3-layered approach. It gets at an issue we've debated a lot and will have to address more directly in our next project: Once we've identified the connections (your level 1), how explicit do we make those connections to teachers and kids, and when? It sounds like you've chosen to frame discussion in terms of the core skills for their own sake, and talk about the specifics of how they're used in each discipline later. That makes good sense to me. And I absolutely agree about the value of CT outside of programming!


  • Icon for: Ben Sayler

    Ben Sayler

    May 16, 2017 | 05:56 p.m.

    Do students develop their own computer simulations in your project or do they implement simulations that have been developed for them? I can easily imagine students setting up their own physical model to test erosion in a sandbox. I can also imagine them testing erosion using a computer simulation in which they can change parameters. Do students also engage with the development of their own simulations -- or with "looking under the hood" of simulations that have already been developed?

  • Icon for: Kevin Waterman

    Kevin Waterman

    May 18, 2017 | 02:22 p.m.

    You bring up a great point. We are following the use/modify/create model here, and are curious about what age it's appropriate to move from one level to the next. We're primarily working with younger kids (grades 1-6), so they aren't very sophisticated in their ability to modify or create models without more directed programming lessons. We're also sensitive to the science content, and incorporating models that are sophisticated enough to enhance the science concepts, so it's a tricky balance.


    So we may not, within a particular grade, have students use/modify/create the same model, but find opportunities in a science lesson to work with a fairly sophisticated model, but then in another lesson (science or math) modify or create a different model.

  • Icon for: Ben Sayler

    Ben Sayler

    May 18, 2017 | 11:24 p.m.

    Excellent. thanks for clarifying

  • Icon for: Jennie Lyons

    Jennie Lyons

    May 19, 2017 | 11:49 a.m.

    There is certainly a tie-in to computer science abstraction with the introduction of modeling/simulation. It is a sophisticated concept for this age student. Do you have/are you looking at the development of learning progressions along with these concepts?

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.

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