skip to main content

Title: Using Computational Modeling to Integrate Science and Engineering Curricular Activities
We articulate a framework for using computational modeling to coherently integrate the design of science and engineering curricular experiences. We describe how this framework informs the design of the Water Runoff Challenge (WRC), a multi-week curriculum unit and modeling environment that integrates Earth science, engineering, and computational modeling for upper elementary and lower middle school students. In the WRC, students develop conceptual and computational models of surface water runoff, then use simulations incorporating their models to develop, test, and optimize solutions to the runoff problem. We conducted a classroom pilot study where we collected students’ learning artifacts and data logged from their use of the computational environment. We illustrate opportunities students had to integrate science, engineering, and computational thinking during the unit in a pair of contrasting vignettes.
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
In M. Gresalfi & I.S. Horn (Eds.). The Interdisciplinarity of the Learning Sciences, 14th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) 2020
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. This study investigates how teachers verbally support students to engage in integrated engineering, science, and computer science activities across the implementation of an engineering project. This is important as recent research has focused on understanding how precollege students’ engagement in engineering practices is supported by teachers (Watkins et al., 2018) and the benefits of integrating engineering in precollege classes, including improved achievement in science, ability to engage in science and engineering practices inherent to engineering (i.e., engineering design), and increased awareness of engineering (National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council; Katehi et al., 2009). Further, there is amore »national emphasis on integrating engineering, science, and computer science practices and concepts in science classrooms (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Yet little research has considered how teachers implement these disciplines together within one classroom, particularly elementary teachers who often have little prior experience in teaching engineering and may need support to integrate engineering design into elementary science classroom settings. In particular, this study explores how elementary teachers verbally support science and computer science concepts and practices to be implicitly and explicitly integrated into an engineering project by implementing support intended by curricular materials and/or adding their own verbal support. Implicit use of integration included students engaging in integrated practices without support to know that they were doing so; explicit use of integration included teachers providing support for students to know how and why they were integrating disciplines. Our research questions include: (1) To what extent did teachers provide implicit and explicit verbal support of integration in implementation versus how it was intended in curricular materials? (2) Does this look different between two differently-tracked class sections? Participants include two fifth-grade teachers who co-led two fifth-grade classes through a four-week engineering project. The project focused on redesigning school surfaces to mitigate water runoff. Teachers integrated disciplines by supporting students to create computational models of underlying scientific concepts to develop engineering solutions. One class had a larger proportion of students who were tracked into accelerated mathematics; the other class had a larger proportion of students with individualized educational plans (IEPs). Transcripts of whole class discussion were analyzed for instances that addressed the integration of disciplines or supported students to engage in integrated activities. Results show that all instances of integration were implicit for the class with students in advanced mathematics while most were explicit for the class with students with IEPs. Additionally, support was mainly added by the teachers rather than suggested by curricular materials. Most commonly, teachers added integration between computer science and engineering. Implications of this study are an important consideration for the support that teachers need to engage in the important, but challenging, work of integrating science and computer science practices through engineering lessons within elementary science classrooms. Particularly, we consider how to assist teachers with their verbal supports of integrated curricula through engineering lessons in elementary classrooms. This study then has the potential to significantly impact the state of knowledge in interdisciplinary learning through engineering for elementary students.« less
  2. Computational Thinking (CT) can play a central role in fostering students' integrated learning of science and engineering. We adopt this framework to design and develop the Water Runoff Challenge (WRC) curriculum for lower middle school students in the USA. This paper presents (1) the WRC curriculum implemented in an integrated computational modeling and engineering design environment and (2) formative and summative assessments used to evaluate learner’s science, engineering, and CT skills as they progress through the curriculum. We derived a series of performance measures associated with student learning from system log data and the assessments. By applying Path Analysis wemore »found significant relations between measures of science, engineering, and CT learning, indicating that they are mutually supportive of learning across these disciplines.« less
  3. Conceptual models serve as both as a design artifact and an object that communicates understanding about underlying systems. As such, conceptual modeling is considered as a crucial component of engineering design. Peer comparison and critique can help students develop conceptual models, yet little research explores how peer comparison activities can support conceptual model development in engineering settings. Therefore, we investigate why and how fifth-grade students made changes to their conceptual models after a peer comparison during a 4-week engineering design curriculum unit focused on water runoff at their school. Data sources included students’ conceptual models before and after the peermore »comparison, field notes, and student interviews after the peer comparison. To understand how students described their conceptual models and why any changes may have occurred, we interviewed twelve students and coded these interview transcripts at the utterance level. Results show that peer comparison activities can increase conceptual model quality. Further, peer comparison contributes to a diverse set of additional representations in students’ conceptual models. The study suggests peer comparisons of conceptual modeling may support students in realizing their peers are a great source of information, a critical realization to support positive engineering design experiences in K-12 and higher education.« less
  4. Engaging students in science learning that integrates disciplinary knowledge and practices such as computational thinking (CT) is a challenge that may represent unfamiliar territory for many teachers. CompHydro Baltimore is a collaborative partnership aimed at enacting Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)–aligned instruction to support students in developing knowledge and practice reflective of the goals laid out in A Framework for K–12 Science Education (National Research Council 2012) “... that by the end of 12th grade, all students possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussion on related issues … and are careful consumers of scientific andmore »technological information related to their everyday lives.” This article presents the results of a partnership that generated a new high school level curriculum and teacher professional development program that tackled the challenge of integrating hydrologic learning with computational thinking as applied to a real-world issue of flooding. CompHydro Baltimore produced Baltimore Floods, a six-lesson high school unit that builds students’ water literacy by engaging them in computational thinking (CT) and modeling practices as they learn about water system processes involved in urban flooding (See Computational Thinking and Associated Science Practices). CompHydro demonstrates that broad partnerships can address these challenges, bringing together the diverse expertise necessary to develop innovative CT-infused science curriculum materials and the teacher supports needed for successful implementation.« less
  5. There is increasing interest in broadening participation in computational thinking (CT) by integrating CT into pre-college STEM curricula and instruction. Science, in particular, is emerging as an important discipline to support integrated learning. This highlights the need for carefully designed assessments targeting the integration of science and CT to help teachers and researchers gauge students’ proficiency with integrating the disciplines. We describe a principled design process to develop assessment tasks and rubrics that integrate concepts and practices across science, CT, and computational modeling. We conducted a pilot study with 10 high school students who responded to integrative assessment tasks asmore »part of a physics-based computational modeling unit. Our findings indicate that the tasks and rubrics successfully elicit both Physics and CT constructs while distinguishing important aspects of proficiency related to the two disciplines. This work illustrates the promise of using such assessments formatively in integrated STEM and computing learning contexts.« less