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Integration of Computational Thinking and Science Using Culturally-Based Topics


The challenge to educators is to find avenues to the audience that are effective at transforming their minds and thinking mechanisms so that the learner can confidentaly go forward to embrace the next frontier. The STEM+C (STEM + Computing Partnerships) program has as its goal the integration of computation and science. This project seeks new and innovative avenues to empower the learners with science and computation as one integral unit. Prior work on Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) showed statistically significant improvement for under-represented students. The original focus was on simulations of cultural arts and helping students discover "heritage algorithms" for new virtual designs. Now, the investigators wish to expand CSDTs to include computational activities into Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and other social motivations such as civic engagement and environmental concepts. CSDTs has now been simplified which allows students use of a programming platform to explore culturally-based STEM topics and share their code through an online user community. The students will learn how to program and apply their ideas to computational aspects of culturally relevant science tasks.
The primary activities will be carried out at Albany high school in New York with 2,214 students, 70% of whom are Black and Latino. Twenty undergraduates from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Engineering and Science Ambassadors program will be paired with 10 teachers who teach two sections of the same STEM+C course each day. This creates a comparison research study wherein the experimental and control groups are reasonably well-matched and can be evaluated with confidence. Thus, a total of about 500 students will be engaged annually. Secondary activities will use after school and summer learning programs for broader dissemination through the 4th Family that is a nonprofit organization reaching students at Schenectady High, Troy High, and Green Tech Charter High. Further, it engages these high school students in peer to peer outreach to middle and elementary schools as well as community accessible events such as the New York State Black and Latino Youth Summit. In the last 3 years, this group has reached a total of about 2,000 students. If the culturally sensitive hypothesis is supported by this research study, learning modules that are "networked" across other disciplines to enhance social relevance will show higher rates of propagation, more sophisticated computational thinking, and better correlation with independent measures of STEM engagement and performance among underrepresented students than learning modules that lack relevant attributes.


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Eglash, Ron and Bennett, Audrey and Drazan, John and Lachney, Michael and Babbitt, William. "A mathematical tool kit for generative justice," ETD - Educação Temática Digital, v.19, 2017. 

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