Practice Brief 56 -- Topics: Practices Instruction

Engaging Students in Computational Thinking During Science Investigations

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Why It Matters To You
  • Teachers should build on students’ existing computational practices using games, simulations, and everyday technologies in instruction.
  • District Staff & PD Providers should include scientists and engineers in PD efforts who can connect teachers with contemporary computational practices, usable data sets for students to analyze, and computational tools for the classroom.
  • School Leaders should invest in infrastructure, professional learning, and equipment to support classroom computational inquiry.

What Is The Issue?

Inquiry in science has become increasingly computational over the past several decades. The broad availability of computational devices, sensor networks, visualizations, networking infrastructure, and programming have revolutionized the way science and engineering investigations are carried out. Computational thinking practices enable unique modes of scientific inquiry that allow scientists to create models and simulations to generate data, and to understand and predict complex phenomena. K-12 science classrooms are natural contexts in which students can engage in computational thinking practices during their investigations.



Reflection Questions

  • How does your curriculum lend itself to the addition of computational practices such as use of interactive simulations and data visualization models?
  • What types of computational expertise and experiences do your students bring to the classroom? How can you deepen their computational practices to move beyond information seeking and research to data generation, analysis, modeling and visualization?
  • What resources, such as school technology support teams, online tutorials, and local scientific experts, can you leverage for computational practices support in your classroom?

Things to Consider

Attending to Equity

Students often bring expertise from everyday computational experiences, such as video gaming, coding, building and using apps, working with spreadsheets, or using computers for creating illustrations, videos, stories, and models. These everyday experiences can be leveraged in the classroom by positioning students as experts on computational tools and practices they are familiar with. Additionally, when students undertake computational thinking practices in school, it helps to bridge the opportunity gap for students who do not have easy access to technology outside of school.

Recommended Actions You Can Take


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Work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Unported License. Others may adapt with attribution. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Opinions expressed are not those of any funding agency.