C2STEM: a System for Synergistic Learning of Physics and Computational Thinking

  • Nicole M. HutchinsEmail author
  • Gautam Biswas
  • Miklós Maróti
  • Ákos Lédeczi
  • Shuchi Grover
  • Rachel Wolf
  • Kristen Pilner Blair
  • Doris Chin
  • Luke Conlin
  • Satabdi Basu
  • Kevin McElhaney


Synergistic learning combining computational thinking (CT) and STEM has proven to be an effective method for advancing learning and understanding in a number of STEM domains and simultaneously helping students develop important CT concepts and practices. We adopt a design-based approach to develop, evaluate, and refine our Collaborative, Computational STEM (C2STEM) learning environment. The system adopts a novel paradigm that combines visual model building with a domain-specific modeling language (DSML) to scaffold learning of high school physics using a computational modeling approach. In this paper, we discuss the design principles that guided the development of our open-ended learning environment (OELE) using a learning-by-modeling and evidence-centered approach for curriculum and assessment design. Students learn by building models that describe the motion of objects, and their learning is supported by scaffolded tasks and embedded formative assessments that introduce them to physics and CT concepts. We have also developed preparation for future learning (PFL) assessments to study students’ abilities to generalize and apply CT and science concepts and practices across problem solving tasks and domains. We use mixed quantitative and qualitative analysis methods to analyze student learning during a semester-long study run in a high school physics classroom. We document some of the lessons learned from this study and discuss directions for future work.


STEM+CT Synergistic learning Learning-by-modeling Computational thinking Evidence-centered design Open-ended learning environment 



We thank Dan Schwartz, Brian Broll, Justin Montenegro, Christopher Harris, Naveed Mohammed, Asif Hasan, Carol Tate, Shannon Campe, and Jill Denner for their assistance on this project. This project is supported under National Science Foundation Award DRL-1640199.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole M. Hutchins
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gautam Biswas
    • 1
  • Miklós Maróti
    • 1
  • Ákos Lédeczi
    • 1
  • Shuchi Grover
    • 2
  • Rachel Wolf
    • 3
  • Kristen Pilner Blair
    • 3
  • Doris Chin
    • 3
  • Luke Conlin
    • 4
  • Satabdi Basu
    • 5
  • Kevin McElhaney
    • 5
  1. 1.Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Looking Glass VenturesPalo AltoUSA
  3. 3.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  4. 4.Salem State UniversitySalemUSA
  5. 5.SRI InternationalMenlo ParkUSA

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