Defining Computational Thinking for Mathematics and Science Classrooms

Abstract

Science and mathematics are becoming computational endeavors. This fact is reflected in the recently released Next Generation Science Standards and the decision to include “computational thinking” as a core scientific practice. With this addition, and the increased presence of computation in mathematics and scientific contexts, a new urgency has come to the challenge of defining computational thinking and providing a theoretical grounding for what form it should take in school science and mathematics classrooms. This paper presents a response to this challenge by proposing a definition of computational thinking for mathematics and science in the form of a taxonomy consisting of four main categories: data practices, modeling and simulation practices, computational problem solving practices, and systems thinking practices. In formulating this taxonomy, we draw on the existing computational thinking literature, interviews with mathematicians and scientists, and exemplary computational thinking instructional materials. This work was undertaken as part of a larger effort to infuse computational thinking into high school science and mathematics curricular materials. In this paper, we argue for the approach of embedding computational thinking in mathematics and science contexts, present the taxonomy, and discuss how we envision the taxonomy being used to bring current educational efforts in line with the increasingly computational nature of modern science and mathematics.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    https://gk12northwestern.wikispaces.com/Lesson+Plans.

  2. 2.

    https://gk12northwestern.wikispaces.com/Roller+Coaster+Activity.

  3. 3.

    By infographic, we mean a visual abstraction that communicates information. It includes conventional formats such as graphs, charts, and maps, but also includes interactive, dynamic visualizations designed with the express goal of communicating information to the viewer.

  4. 4.

    Additional information on the lesson plans, including materials and software, can be found at http://ct-stem.northwestern.edu

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Acknowledgments

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under NSF Grant CNS-1138461. However, any opinions, findings, conclusions, and/or recommendations are those of the investigators and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

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Weintrop, D., Beheshti, E., Horn, M. et al. Defining Computational Thinking for Mathematics and Science Classrooms. J Sci Educ Technol 25, 127–147 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-015-9581-5

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Keywords

  • Computational thinking
  • High school mathematics and science education
  • STEM education
  • Scientific practices
  • Systems thinking
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Computational problem solving