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  1. Recent years have seen growing interest in utilizing digital storytelling, where students create short narratives around a topic, as a means of creating motivating problem-solving activities in K-12 education. At the same time, there is increasing awareness of the need to engage students as young as elementary school in complex topics such as physical science and computational thinking. Building on previous research investigating block-based programming activities for storytelling, we present an approach to block-based programming for interactive digital storytelling to engage upper elementary students (ages 9 to 10) in computational thinking and narrative skill development. We describe both the learning environment that combines block-based narrative programming with a rich, interactive visualization engine designed to produce animations of student generated stories, as well as an analysis of students using the system to create narratives. Student generated stories are evaluated from both a story quality perspective as well as from their ability to communicate and demonstrate computational thinking and physical science concepts and practices. We also explore student behaviors during the story creation process and discuss potential improvements for future interventions. 
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  2. null (Ed.)
    Elementary school teachers are increasingly looking to incorporate computational thinking (CT) into their practice. Unlike middle and high school where CT is often integrated into a single subject, elementary school teachers have the unique opportunity to integrate CT across multiple content areas. However, there is little research on the in-platform supports elementary teachers need to accomplish this integration successfully. To investigate this integration, we are iteratively developing a narrative-centered learning environment to facilitate learning outcomes in physical science via the creation of digital narratives that elicit CT. The learning environment enables students to use their science understanding to propose a solution to a problem through story creation using custom narrative-centered programming blocks that set a story’s scene, selects characters, and controls the story’s unfolding dialogue and actions. We have engaged with four upper elementary teachers to gather their perspectives on the usability of the learning environment and input on future design iterations. In this paper, we report results from a focus group study with the teachers that examines their perceptions on whether and how the learning environment facilitates story creation and if the learning environment provides learning supports for integrated science, language arts, and CT. Initial results suggest that teachers found the environment to be engaging and supportive of students’ creativity. 
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  3. Recent years have seen a growing recognition of the importance of enabling K-12 students to engage in computational thinking, particularly in elementary grades where students' dispositions toward STEM are developing. Block-based programming has emerged as an effective tool for engaging these novice learners in computational thinking. At the same time, digital storytelling has emerged as a promising avenue for creating motivating problem-solving scenarios that engage students in science investigations. Although block-based programming and digital storytelling are in many ways synergistic, there is a lingering question of how to design block-based languages at an age-appropriate level to enable effective and engaging storytelling. In this work, we review design principles from prior block-based and digital storytelling systems as well as propose the design of block-based programming language features to enable the creation of rich, interactive science narratives by upper elementary students. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    In an effort to infuse computational thinking practices in upper elementary science, and to promote positive student dispositions toward STEM, this project investigates a new narrative-centered maker environment involving: 1) problem-based learning research and modeling of physical science concepts, 2) application of learned concepts to original digital stories created using block-based programming, and 3) further communication of science understanding through play with fabricated story sets and characters reflective of narratives. 
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  5. Narrative and collaboration are two core features of rich interactive learning. Narrative-centered learning environments offer significant potential for supporting student learning. By contextualizing learning within interactive narratives, these environments leverage students’ innate facilities for developing understandings through stories. Computer-supported collaborative learning environments offer students rich, collaborative learning experiences in which small groups of students engage in constructing artifacts, addressing disciplinary challenges, and solving problems. Narrative and collaboration have distinct affordances for learning, but combining them poses significant challenges. In this paper, we present initial work on solving this problem by introducing collaborative narrative-centered learning environments. These environments will enable small groups of students to collaboratively solve problems in rich multi-participant storyworlds. We propose a novel framework for designing and developing these environments, which we are using to create a collaborative narrative-centered learning environment for middle school ecosystems education. In the learning environment, students work on problem-solving scenarios centered on how to support optimal fish health in aquatic environments. Results from pilot testing the learning environment with 45 students suggest it supports the creation of engaging and effective collaborative narrative-centered learning experiences. 
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  6. Block-based programming languages reduce the need to learn low-level programming syntax while enabling novice learners to focus on computational thinking skills. Game-based learning environments have been shown to create effective and engaging learning experiences for students in a broad range of educational domains. The fusion of block-based programming with game-based learning offers significant potential to motivate learners to develop computational thinking skills. A key challenge educational game developers face in creating rich, interactive learning experiences that integrate computational thinking activities is the lack of an embeddable block-based programming toolkit. Current block-based programming languages, such as Blockly and Scratch, cannot be easily embedded into industry-standard 3D game engines. This paper presents IntelliBlox, a Blockly-inspired toolkit for the Unity cross-platform game engine that enables learners to create block-based programs within immersive game-based learning environments. Our experience using IntelliBlox suggests that it is an effective toolkit for integrating block-based programming challenges into game-based learning environments. 
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