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Training Students to Applying Computational Thinking (CT) to Solve Locally-Relevant Socio-Scientific Issues

Name: Falegaonkar Vishvanath Bhaurao Degree : Ph.D second year

Department: Interdisciplinary Programme in Educational Technology Supervisor: Prof. Sridhar Iyer

Research description:

Training Students to Applying Computational Thinking (CT) to Solve Locally-Relevant Socio-Scientific Issues

Definition of Computational Thinking for K-12

To bring CT to K-12, the International Society for Technology in Education and the Computer Science Teacher Association (ISTE and CSTA 2011) presented a definition of CT for K-12 Education. Computational Thinking is a problem-solving process that includes (but is not limited to) the following characteristics:

  • Formulating problems in a way that enables us to use a computer and other tools to help solve them
  • Logically organizing and analyzing data
  • Representing data through abstractions, such as models and simulations
  • Automating solutions through algorithmic thinking (a series of ordered steps)
  • Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and resources
  • Generalizing and transferring this problem-solving process to a wide variety of problems.

Motivation of the Study

Computational Thinking will be a fundamental skill used by everyone in the world by the middle of the 21st century. The meaning of fundamental skill is just as basic as reading, writing and arithmetic. Computing and computers will help to spread computational thinking and in the age of the pandemic like COVID 19, computational thinking skill will be a path breaking way to spread the knowledge and intellect in the education domain. Computational thinking is extensively used not only in the science and engineering communities in their daily lives but also even in the non-technical communities like historians and artists. Computational thinking will be important at the undergraduate level and PhD level but the dare was to really see how it can be inculcated in the teaching of k-12 students and how teachers in k-12 can teach such students. So, taking this as a motivation and trigger point to consider this CT topic as my PhD topic and the preliminary title of the same will be “Training Students to Applying Computational Thinking (CT) to Solve Locally-Relevant Socio-Scientific Issues (SSI)”.

Scope of the Study

I started this thesis topic after completion of my seminar topic which was on “Challenge Based Learning (CBL)” with some assumptions to work on. The scope of the topic revolves around some myths which include but not limited to-Learning based on the standard textbook is not working in the present situation, Students in the rural areas are not sharp, Students who study in the vernacular medium will not be able to understand the science subject, Identifying the topics to which students and teachers in the rural areas are finding difficulties in relating or understanding the concepts such as lift, elevator etc. The Scope of the study goes beyond the literature survey related to computational thinking, socio-scientific issues which are locally relevant, 21st century skills, challenge based learning etc.

Solution Approach

The solution to the research questions is provided by integrating 21st Century Skills, Computational Thinking Skills and Challenge Based Learning through real life Socio Scientific Issues to the students from class 6th to 10th from government school. Total students participated in the work are 220. Students were engaged in different activities related to drought. They have participated in developing projects, creation of artwork about drought and elocution competition to foster the drought related understanding. Above image is an example which shows computational thinking in real life and a summary of a student engaged in understanding the drought concept. This summary is written in scripted form.

 

This is Raj. He is late again for his first period class in school because he went to fetch water for drinking and other household purposes and there was a long queue at the government bore well. Other kids in the class said this happens to them too when they fetch water for drinking and other purposes. This led to a discussion about the big idea of drought which needs immediate attention. Everyone had thoughts, opinions and questions so the teacher helped them to formulate essential questions such as – How can we meet our water needs without further depleting the water resources in our locality? More discussion led to this challenge - How can we recharge the number of dry bore wells and other water bodies in the village? The kids in the class realized that there were many more questions that needed to be answered before they could meet this challenge. They formed groups among themselves and started collecting information. They consulted the school’s library in charge to help them to find books, articles and web resources. They made an online and offline survey forms where they asked parents, residents, teachers and students questions about how they fetch water every day and collected data about the number of bore wells and other water bodies in the vicinity of village, traditional water conservation practices and other relevant information. They interviewed the district agriculture and water committee coordinator and had video conferences with drought and environmental experts. As they talked to answer their questions, more questions popped up. They gathered their information, organized it, displayed it and analyzed it and came up with some possible solutions. From these possibilities, they chose the actions they thought, they could actually do and that would have the greatest impact. They decided to create a database of water harvesting related service vendors and mapped them up with service interested village residents and they made a webpage for a school website about the advantages of water harvesting and water conservation methods. The teacher helped to organize a rally spreading message about tackling drought situation and increasing the green cover by planting more trees and by construction of more water storage tanks .They made a presentation to the school board about how these traditional methods as well as modern techniques would be an environmentally sustainable solution to the persistent water scarcity problem. They created public service announcements for the local TV stations and wrote letters to the editor of their local newspaper about how it's everyone's responsibility to protect the environment and about how building water storage tanks to collect rainwater will help in water conservation and tackling drought by recharging wells. After several weeks they collected more data to see if their solutions were working and residents are building more water storage tanks or not. They found that residents and local panchayats are building more water storage tanks than before. Now kids and teachers realized that they are spending less time in the queue as compared to earlier in fetching water. The kids in Raj’s class learned a lot about research and communications as they were learning about drought and Raj wasn’t late to school anymore.

Conclusion and Future Work

So far, I can see that students at senior level appreciate working with SSI. Thus, working with SSI could be considered as an appropriate activity for all students. However, the work with SSI might not so much raise students’ interests in science, but it can strengthen generic skills such as team-work, problem-solving and media literacy. We notice that students are ill-prepared to work autonomously. The future work would involve further detailed literature review and exploration of computational thinking in different domains. Various scientific research methods would be implored in conducting interviews and surveys in various government schools. More emphasis will be given to the CT concepts, practices and its implementation in academic curriculum in a staged manner. SSI will be studied in detailed fashion to incorporate 21st century skills along with CT skills. Among the key issues that require further exploration is how to measure students’ CT ability and examine the effects of the teaching of CT, especially in terms of major assessment approaches and research methodologies. There are so many limitations to the success of CT in Indian context and that too in rural education. The major lacunae would be the assumption of established technical resources and experts to teach this advanced usage of computer education. The major hindrance will be the access to technology. If technical infrastructure is made available then CT skills will be successful to implement.