MSU gets $2 million for computational thinking research

Grant funding from the National Science Foundation will help K-12 teachers integrate computational thinking into their classrooms.
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Michigan State University announced this month it’s received more than $2 million in research funding from the National Science Foundation that will help more K-12 teachers integrate “computational thinking” into their lesson plans.

Computational thinking, problem-solving methods that break problems into steps similar to those followed by computers, affords students opportunity to learn a host of skills associated with computer science and the other sciences, such as abstraction, pattern recognition and algorithmic thinking.

Aman Yadav, an MSU professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education who will lead the two new grant projects, said in a university press release that K-12 students do not get enough exposure to the concepts included in computational thinking lessons.

“It is important we provide opportunities for all K-12 students to learn computer science ideas and skills,” Yadav said. “Even with computing becoming a crucial driver of innovation and creativity, not enough students get an opportunity to learn it.”


The two programs Yadav will lead include a $300,000 grant to assist special education teacher candidates to learn computer science and computational thinking and bring it to their classrooms.

But recognizing that aspiring teachers must already meet many requirements to become licensed, the research will center on how teachers can effectively integrate computational thinking and computer science into their existing lessons, rather than building an entirely new curricula that would be added to their schedules.

Another three-year $1.7 million study will explore how computational thinking could be incorporated into social studies, English and art lessons in K-12 classrooms in Michigan and New York classrooms.

“We will work with disciplinary experts and teachers to co-design lessons that bring computational thinking practices using both unplugged, or without computers, and computationally rich activities,” Yadav said.

According to a university press release, the larger grant will be led through partnership with Telos Learning and the youth development nonprofit Mouse, to “create and share methods and tools teachers can use to incorporate computing across the various disciplines.”


The work extends a broader initiative led by Yadav already underway, called CT4EDU, also funded by the National Science Foundation, created to promote the use of computational thinking in K-12 classrooms. That program, which is a partnership between Michigan State University, Michigan’s Oakland Schools district and the American Institute for Research, in 2019 produced four research papers advancing the work of integrating computational thinking into K-12 classrooms.

This story was updated after publication to correct the description of those involved in the grant partnership. 

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