Saturday, October 1 , 2016, 9:18 am | Fair 68º

  • Follow Noozhawk on LinkedIn
  • Follow Noozhawk on Pinterest
  • Follow Noozhawk on YouTube
 
 
 
 

UCSB Scholars Receive Grant to Develop Elementary-School Curriculum

While science education at the K-12 level is guided by national and state content standards, computer science instruction is ad-hoc, and often focuses on how to use computer software, rather than how to create or adapt it. With a grant of nearly $600,000 from the National Science Foundation, two professors at UC Santa Barbara hope to change that by developing computer science curricula geared toward children in grades two through six.

UCSB professors Danielle Harlow, left, and Diana Franklin. (Rod Rolle photo)
UCSB professors Danielle Harlow, left, and Diana Franklin. (Rod Rolle photo)

“I think computer science has suffered because there’s no Popsicle stick bridge,” said Diana Franklin, a faculty member in UCSB’s Department of Computer Science and one of the project’s principal investigators. “For civil engineering, you can have kids make a Popsicle stick bridge, and they have created a rudimentary version of what an engineer might build. Computer science has always lacked that tactile, cool thing that lets kids feel like they did what a computer scientist does.”

The researchers will be working with students and teachers at Peabody and McKinley elementary schools in Santa Barbara, and with schools in the Rio School District in Oxnard. Their first step will be to interview the students to get a sense of what they know about computers and how they can be used for problem solving.

“We want to find out what they already know, and what types of problems they’re already solving using what’s referred to as computational thinking,” Franklin said. “They’re problem-solving skills that people already use, but are not methodically taught, and they’re not identified as computational thinking. The idea is to identify what they’re currently doing in computational thinking so we can build up to more advanced levels.”

Computational thinking is a method that can be used to algorithmically solve complicated problems of scale.

“A good example is choosing a space in a parking lot,” Franklin noted. “Some people like to minimize the distance they walk. So they’ll keep driving to the front, trying to find the closest spot. Other people don’t want to hunt for a parking spot, so they’ll go farther out. These are two different algorithms to solve the same problem of finding a parking space. This ability to come up with, and express, an algorithm to analyze what you’re minimizing is part of computational thinking.”

As it turns out, schoolchildren do the same kind of thing every day.

“We talked with kids at one of the elementary schools in preparation for the work we’re going to do, and one of the examples that came out of that discussion had to do with finding a seat at the lunch table,” said Danielle Harlow, assistant professor in UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and the project’s other principal investigator. “Do they want to be close to the playground so they can get out there as soon as they finish lunch? Do they want to be close to their friends? Do they want to be close to where the food is located? Or do they just want to find any open space? They do the same sorts of problem solving, but in different contexts.”

This is the starting point for the researchers’ work in building curricula to advance computational thinking –– algorithmic development and problem solving without the computer –– as well as computer science proficiency.

“We also have some programming projects, so they’ll be doing some digital storytelling,” Franklin said. “They’ll do a series of warm-up exercises in which they learn computer science concepts on the computer, and then they’ll do a final project.”

The students’ projects will be designed to dovetail with what they are already doing in school, Harlow noted.

“These are connecting with the current standards and the next generation of standards, but using the child-friendly computer programming to create them,” she said.

Over the grant’s three-year period, Franklin and Harlow will continue to observe the students and interview a select group to identify what they are learning as they move through the curriculum.

“We’ll have two iterations, so we’ll be able to make changes as necessary,” Harlow said. “Then we’ll be able to study how students go from baseline knowledge, which is what we’re going to be looking at later this year, and how that develops over the grant period. This will form what we call a learning progression.”

Very little empirical research has been done on young children’s concepts of computer science, and that makes the work done by Franklin and Harlow fairly groundbreaking.

“In funding the grant, the NSF asked for a computer scientist and an education scholar,” Franklin said.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >