Teaching Computational Thinking Practices Through Robotics

Changing Culture in Robotics Classrooms | NSF DRK12 Project 1418199


Teaching Computational Thinking Practices Though Robotics

Google: What is Computational Thinking?

Robot systems are everywhere; we just don’t call them robots. We call them smart phones, video game consoles, banking systems, shipping and handling systems, transportation systems, and health care systems. A robotic system is a machine that uses a Sense – Plan – Act algorithm for its decision making process. Robots sense data from the environment, process that data using user defined algorithms, and then acts based on the data and plan. The brains of robotic systems are driven by Computer Science (CS) and the Computational Thinking [ i ] that CS education develops. Today, computing systems that integrate software and digital hardware are revolutionizing the world around us and disrupting every industry known to humankind. [ ii ] As systems become more complex, it is critical for future innovators to understand how to think computationally.

CS will play a key role in nearly all future innovation, including advancements across all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, yet nationally only 8 percent of schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) CP courses. There are 26,407 public secondary schools and 10,693 private secondary schools in the United States [ iii ], only 3,075 schools are accredited to teach AP CS. [ iv ] This project, Changing Culture in Robotics Classrooms (CCRC), NSF DR-K-12 1418199 is a research and development project that designs robotic education tools that engage students in Computational Thinking Practices (CTP) [ v ] as they learn skills and concepts identified as important in NSF’s Computer Science Principles Project [ vi ], and the new AP CSP course [ vii ]. This paper describes the tools that the project partners are developing for robotics education and how they support CS education.

  • Google: "What is Computational Thinking?", Link

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  • Wing, Jeannette M. "Computational thinking," CACM Viewpoint, March (2006): 33-35.

  • Lazer, D., Pentland, A. S., Adamic, L., Aral, S., Barabasi, A. L., Brewer, D., & Van Alstyne, M. (2009). Life in the network: the coming age of computational social science. Science (New York, NY), 323(5915), 721.

  • [ii] Anybody Can Learn, Link

  • [iii] Archived: High school facts at a glance – US Department of Education, Link

  • [iv] College Board, AP Course Audit (Computer Science and Calculus, 2013-2014, United States; accessed April 27, 2015), Link | PDF

  • [v] Bienkowski, M., Snow, E., Rutstein, D. W., & Grover, S. (2015). Assessment design patterns for computational thinking practices in secondary computer science: A first look (SRI technical report). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

  • [vi] Astrachan, O., Briggs, A., Diaz, L., (2009-13) CS Principles, NSF Special Projects O938336, Link

  • [vii] College Board, 2016, AP Computer Science Principles Course and Exam Description Effective Fall 2016, Link