Integrating Computational Thinking into Preservice Elementary Science Teaching

The goal of our study is to investigate how to improve the preparation that elementary teachers receive about computational thinking (CT) to increase both the quantity and quality of exposure for elementary-aged children that can then be built upon throughout their schooling.

To increase the number and diversity of students enrolled in secondary computer science courses (and thus in computer science careers), interest and basic understanding need to be developed in younger children when interests are being formed. The first step is to improve the preparation that elementary teachers receive about computational thinking (CT) to increase both the quantity and quality of exposure for elementary-aged children that can then be built upon throughout their schooling. This project’s overall goal, therefore, is to transform elementary school teacher practice by integrating CT strategically and significantly into science instruction for all young learners, thereby promoting a more numerous and more diverse citizenry, knowledgeable and interested in computing. The CT→PSTE project is designing, implementing, and testing pedagogical modules for developing CT in preservice teachers’ science methods pedagogical course. Further, an extracurricular Science Teaching CT Inquiry Group is being designed to enhance and broaden the level of understanding for both teacher interns’ and their mentor teachers’ understanding of CT, including how computer applications support the teaching of science and CT as a necessary science practice for all elementary-aged students. Instruction in how to convey to young learners the integral nature of CT for STEM career awareness and readiness is included throughout the curriculum innovation. This project is engaging in exploratory, basic research to provide empirical support in developing a set of resources (science methods experiences), tools (a framework for integrating CT in undergraduate science teacher education), and measures (assessments for CT understanding and CT-STEM career awareness).

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Our Goals
As Computational Thinking (CT) becomes more relevant in professional science, we situate our project as a response to the need to include CT into K-12 education. Specifically, our goal is to help preservice teachers develop the necessary skills to integrate CT into their science teaching.
Computational Thinking
CT is "the thought processes involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information-processing agent" such as a computer (Wing 2006). However, we also base our work on Weintrop et al.'s (2016) CT practices for integration of CT in science and math teaching.
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While CT is considered an essential skill in today's world, participation in STEM is not representative of the racial and gender distribution of our population. Especially in Computer Science, women and minorities are largely absent from academic and professional positions.


Exploring the Integration of Computational Thinking in a Preservice Elementary Science Methods Course: Multiple Perspectives

(2019, April) Paper Set Presented at the NARST Conference in Baltimore, MD

McGinnis, J. R., Mills, K., Cabrera L. & Jeong, H.

Examining the Role of Mentor Teacher Support in a Professional Learning Experience for Preservice Teachers on Integrating Computational Thinking into Elementary Science Education

(2019, March) Presented at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) in Las Vegas, NV

Jass Ketelhut, D., Hestness, E., Cabrera, L., Jeong, H., Plane, J. & McGinnis, J. R.

Effects of a Computational Thinking Module on Preservice Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs

(2019, April) Presented at the AERA Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada

Cabrera, L., Jass Ketelhut, D., Hestness, E., Mills, K. & McGinnis, J. R.

Professional knowledge building within an elementary teacher professional development experience on computational thinking in science education

(2018) Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 26(3), 411-435

Hestness, E., Ketelhut, D. J., McGinnis, J. R., & Plane, J.

Exploring the integration of computational thinking into preservice elementary science teacher education

(2018, June) Poster presented at the National Science Foundation 2018 DRK-12 PI Meeting. Washington, DC.

Ketelhut, D. J., & Hestness, E.

Mentor teachers’ views on integrating computational thinking into elementary science following a professional development experience

(2018, April) Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). New York, NY.

Ketelhut, D. J., Hestness, E., Mills, K. Ylizarde, N.H., McGinnis, J. R., & Plane, J. (2018, April).

Computational thinking professional development for elementary science educators: Examining the design process

(2018, March) Paper presented at the annual conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE). Washington, DC.

Hestness, E., Ketelhut, D. J., McGinnis, J. R., Plane, J., Razler, B., Mills, K., Cabrera, L. & Gonzalez, E.

Integrating computational thinking into elementary science teacher education through citizen science

(2018, March) Poster presented at the 2018 Washington Symposium and Poster Session of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE). Washington, DC.

Hestness, E. & Mills, K.

Programmatic model building in undergraduate elementary science teacher education for computational thinking

(2018, March) Interactive poster session presented at the annual meeting of NARST: A Worldwide Organization for Improving Science Teaching and Learning through Research. Atlanta, GA.

McGinnis, J. R., Ketelhut, D. J., Hestness, E., Jeong, H., & Mills, K.

Research Team

  • Diane Jass Ketelhut
    Dr. Diane Jass Ketelhut

    Diane’s research focuses on both improving self-efficacy in science and computational thinking and on learning and engagement through scientific inquiry experiences within virtual environments.

  • Randy McGinnis
    Dr. James Randy McGinnis

    As a professor of Science, Math and Technology Education, Dr. McGinnis' research focuses on Science Teacher Education, Climate Change Education, and Computational Thinking. In this project, he leads the research team in implementing our innovation in the elementary science methods course.

  • Jan Plane
    Dr. Jandelyn Plane

    Jan Plane is a Principal Lecturer in the Computer Science Department, the Director of the Maryland Center for Women in Computing and the Associate Director of ACES. Because she has graduate degrees in both computer science and education, her interests center around curriculum, pedagogy and diversity in computing at all stages of the pipeline.

  • Kelly Mills
    Dr. Kelly Mills

    Kelly has experience teaching high school science. Her research interests include accessing and valuing scientific funds of knowledge with technology.

  • Lautaro Cabrera (LC)
    Lautaro Cabrera (LC)

    LC has a background in psychology, design, and computer science. As a doctoral student, he focuses on the development of computational thinking mental models and assessment.

  • Hannoori Jeong
    Hannoori Jeong

    Hannoori studies gender and racial inequity in STEM and informal learning context. As a doctoral student with a Biology B.A. and Science Education M.A., she focuses on science teachers' awareness on inequity.

  • Heather Killen
    Heather Killen

    Heather has a background in biology and STEM learning. As a doctoral student, she focuses on STEM learning in out-of-school environments with a special interest in adult STEM learning and program assessment.

Contact Us

Dr. Kelly Mills
Post-Doctoral Fellow

Related Links

What our Teachers Say

  • I've really enjoyed this experience. I think it has really helped me grow as a professional. I've got some great experiences out of it. Met some great people. So I've greatly enjoyed it. I value the time that I've spent here.

    4th Grade Teacher
  • We were shown ways you could realistically incorporate Computational Thinking even without fancy 3D printer technology. But just on a lower level, like creating those types of simulations with lower budgets.

    Preservice 3rd Grade Teacher

How to Participate

If you are a teacher and are interested in participating in our project, fill out the Interest Form below and we will get in touch with you.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us!