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CT in Physics Profile

Research on the Integration of Computational Modeling and Algebra-Based Physics to Improve Teaching and Learning of Computational Thinking


Computing and computational thinking (CT) are an integral part of everyday practice within modern fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As a result, the STEM+Computing Partnerships (STEM+C) program seeks to advance new multidisciplinary approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the integration of computing in STEM teaching and learning, and discipline-specific efforts in computing designed to build an evidence base for teaching and learning of computer science in K-12, including within diverse populations. Recent efforts have been made to incorporate computational modeling in physics instruction to facilitate integration of computing and physics instruction. However, these efforts focus on upper-grade, calculus-based physics courses, in which disproportionately fewer Black, Hispanic, and female students enroll. This project will develop and test an innovative professional development system where teachers develop physics, computing and CT, and pedagogical content knowledge that enables them to effectively incorporate computational modeling in algebra-based Physics First courses in which all students enroll. The project combines two complementary model-based pedagogies and tools - Modeling Instruction and Bootstrap - as the basis of an explicit instructional approach to teaching computing and CT and of curricular materials that are suitable for diverse early secondary learners of physics. The intervention will address specific needs of teachers and students with regard to relevant disciplinary content, practices, and computation as specified in the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice, the Computer Science Teacher Association Computer Science Standards, and recent consensus frameworks for computational thinking in STEM. The project team includes physicists, education developers, and education researchers affiliated with the American Association of Physics Teachers and computer scientists from Brown University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Sixty teachers and their estimated 6000 students from high schools in New York and nationwide will participate in and benefit from the project. The diverse nature of the schools and the intentional design for algebra-based physics courses will both engage a demographically diverse student population in STEM and help the project achieve significant broader impacts, by assuring that the findings and products developed reflect the needs of a broad diversity of people and places. The project will contribute to practical models of professional development that support teachers' learning and integration of CT in physics, and possibly, other science domains. The project will produce professional development workshops and associated materials, including grade-level computational physics modules for a variety of core physics topics. The developed products and the research findings will be shared with more than 8,000 high school, community college, and 4-year college members of the Modeling and Bootstrap practitioner communities.
This project will investigate a method of broadening access to CT through the integration of computational modeling in a context experienced by all students in participating teachers' schools: algebra-based physics courses. The professional development will engage teachers who are experienced users of Modeling Instruction in (1) a computational modeling course using the Bootstrap programming language and curricular resources; (2) a scaffolded process for collaboratively developing instructional modules that integrate algebra-based physics and computational modeling; (3) ongoing support for implementing a core set of refined computational physics modules in algebra-based physics courses; and (4) monthly meetings of an online professional learning community to discuss the computational physics modules, their implementation, classroom successes and barriers, and evidence of CT-infused physics learning from student work. As a result of participating in the professional development, teachers will have increased facility with and disciplined application of computational modeling across a variety of core physics topics. They will be able to support CT-infused physics learning as students build, refine, and use computational models to explore physical and computational worlds. Over three years the project will engage 60 teachers from schools in New York and nationwide. Each year, two master teachers will partner with the project team to further refine the set of teacher-developed modules prior to implementation. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of teacher and student assessments, surveys, interviews, work products, and both PD and classroom observations will be used to determine the effectiveness and broad utility of the approach for integrating physics and computing. The project will develop and validate a new Integrated Computational Thinking in Physics Survey (ICTPS) to measure (1) competencies with CT concepts and practices in the context of building computational models of physical systems and using them to solve problems; and (2)aspects of identity as a competent learner of computational thinking. The research will provide the first study of how professional learning with Modeling Instruction and Bootstrap pedagogies and resources augment teachers' learning of physics and CT and improves their competence and confidence to integrate computational modeling in physics curriculum and instruction. The research will also explore whether integrating computational modeling in algebra-based physics shows promise for improving diverse students' learning and problem solving in physics and computing. The new research assessment for measuring CT as applied to physical systems and problems may be broadly useful for future research at the intersections of physics and CT. The project team and advisory board members will disseminate findings to their respective professional associations and networks, including the American Association of Physics Teachers, American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA), STEMteachersNYC, and stakeholders of the Bootstrap user community. Findings will also be shared by more traditional means, such as papers in peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations. Efforts will be made to incorporate the computational physics modules produced in this study into the more than 80 Modeling Instruction workshops offered each year through the AMTA.