Education and Information Technologies

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 1501–1514 | Cite as

Enhancing future K-8 teachers’ computational thinking skills through modeling and simulations

  • Rachel F. AdlerEmail author
  • Hanna Kim


It is now required for teachers to incorporate computational thinking (CT) into their science classes. Our research modifies the existing structure of a science methods course for preservice teachers to include CT via modeling and simulations. In the first study, preservice teachers were introduced to the basics of coding through an Hour of Code tutorial, followed by an exercise where they programmed an animated model of the solar system using Scratch. In the second study, we created a web-based simulation to visualize Newton’s second law of motion (F = ma) with a dynamic graph feature. The simulation is a race between two cars with interactive settings that the user can change, such as changing the mass and force of each car. Results from both studies reveal that after completing the exercises, preservice teachers learned the material effectively, felt that CT exercises would be beneficial in K-8 education, and plan to incorporate CT into their future classrooms.


Computational thinking Scratch Simulations Coding Computer model 



We would like to acknowledge Northeastern Illinois University’s Student Center for Science Engagement for funding student research. We would like to thank students Jean Boris Konan, Suhaib Nedaria, Purva Chandel, Zainab Akubat, and Amna Irfan for their help with the simulation. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1640041.


  1. Aho, A. V. (2012). Computation and computational thinking. Computer Journal, 55(7), 832–835. Scholar
  2. Barr, V., & Stephenson, C. (2011). Bringing computational thinking to K-12: what is involved and what is the role of the computer science education community? ACM Inroads, 2(1), 48–54. Scholar
  3. Bell, R. L., & Trundle, K. C. (2008). The use of a computer simulation to promote scientific conceptions of moon phases. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(3), 346–372. Scholar
  4. Brennan, K., & Resnick, M. (2012). New frameworks for studying and assessing the development of computational thinking. Paper presented at the American Education Researcher Association, Vancouver, Canada.Google Scholar
  5. De Jong, T., & Van Joolingen, W. R. (1998). Scientific discovery learning with computer simulations of conceptual domains. Review of Educational Research, 68(2), 179–201. Scholar
  6. Fesakis, G., & Serafeim, K. (2009). Influence of the familiarization with "scratch" on future teachers' opinions and attitudes about programming and ICT in education. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 14th annual ACM SIGCSE conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education, Paris, France.Google Scholar
  7. Foley, B. (2012). Students’ construction of science simulations: “Is that real enough?”. Paper presented at the American Education Research Association (AERA 2012), Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, April 2012.Google Scholar
  8. Grover, S., & Pea, R. (2013). Computational thinking in K–12. Educational Researcher, 42(1), 38–43. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Guzdial, M. (2008). Education: paving the way for computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 51(8), 25–27. Scholar
  10. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). (2011). Operational definition of computational thinking for K-12 Education. Retrieved from Accessed 1 August 2017.
  11. Maloney, J. H., Peppler, K., Kafai, Y., Resnick, M., & Rusk, N. (2008) Programming by choice: urban youth learning programming with scratch. In Proceedings of the 39th SIGCSE technical symposium on Computer science education, Portland, OR, USA, 2008 (pp. 367–371). 1352260: ACM.
  12. National Research Council. (2010). Report of a workshop on the scope and nature of computational thinking. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  13. National Research Council. (2011). Report of a workshop of pedagogical aspects of computational thinking. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  14. Resnick, M., Maloney, J., Monroy-Hernández, A., Rusk, N., Eastmond, E., Brennan, K., et al. (2009). Scratch: programming for all. Communications of the ACM, 52(11), 60–67. Scholar
  15. Sengupta, P., Kinnebrew, J. S., Basu, S., Biswas, G., & Clark, D. (2013). Integrating computational thinking with K-12 science education using agent-based computation: a theoretical framework. Education and Information Technologies, 18(2), 351–380. Scholar
  16. Smith, C. P., & Neumann, M. D. (2014). Scratch it out! Enhancing geometrical understanding. Teaching Children Mathematics, 21(3), 185–188. Scholar
  17. Sneider, C., Stephenson, C., Schafer, B., & Flick, L. (2014). Exploring the science framework and NGSS: computational thinking in the science classroom. Science Scope, 38(3), 10–15.Google Scholar
  18. Voogt, J., Fisser, P., Good, J., Mishra, P., & Yadav, A. (2015). Computational thinking in compulsory education: towards an agenda for research and practice. Education and Information Technologies, 20(4), 715–728. Scholar
  19. Weintrop, D., Beheshti, E., Horn, M., Orton, K., Jona, K., Trouille, L., et al. (2016). Defining computational thinking for mathematics and science classrooms. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 25(1), 127–147. Scholar
  20. Wing, J. M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33–35. Scholar
  21. Wing, J. M. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366(1881), 3717–3725. Scholar
  22. Yadav, A., Mayfield, C., Zhou, N., Hambrusch, S., & Korb, J. T. (2014). Computational thinking in elementary and secondary teacher education. Transactions on Computing Education, 14(1), 1–16. Scholar
  23. Yadav, A., Stephenson, C., & Hong, H. (2017). Computational thinking for teacher education. Communications of the ACM, 60(4), 55–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northeastern Illinois UniversityChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations