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7 Research-Based Classroom Strategies for Teaching Computer Science (CS)

Posted by EiE Team on Monday, May 17, 2021

Research-backed strategies for teaching CS: 

1. Provide visuals. Support student understanding with visual examples, instructions, and explanations. Start with lots of scaffolding, and gradually remove it as students progress.  

→ Classroom Application: Download EiE’s free Coding Block Reference Sheet for Scratch Use this visual resource to support all students, especially English Language Learners, as they solve problems, collaborate, and learn new CS vocabulary. 

2. Encourage students. Studies show that encouragement from a teacher or parent is correlated with students having more interest in learning CS.  This can be as simple as saying, “You would be good at computer science”.  

Classroom Application: Use all types of media to show that everyone is capable of computer science. Allowing learners to see people like them doing computer science in videos, articles, or on posters is another form of encouragement.  Be sure to provide praise to all learners by stating, “I like how you thought critically to solve that problem” or “You really persevered to debug your algorithm!” 

3. Decode the code. Researchers from University of Chicago created a strategy for exploring Scratch projects that is based on reading comprehension strategies. This strategy scaffolds the student approach as they explore example programs and helps students make methodical observations, rather than getting overwhelmed by complex code. Students who used this strategy performed better than the control group on questions about computer science.  

Classroom Application: Begin using the TIPP&SEE strategy while teaching computational thinking. For example, in EiE’s Computer Science Essentials grade 2 unit, Creating Animations, problem solvers learn about computer animations through activities, discussions, and readings designed to make the computer science concepts relevant. Encourage learners to use the TIPP&SEE strategy while reading the unit epilogue and while analyzing the algorithms they create for the animations. 

4. Leverage peer-to-peer support. Assign roles to students working in groups. Individual accountability and group rewards can increase success of students with learning disabilities. Prepare students for collaboration by explicitly teaching strategies and language for asking peers for help and offering support.  

Classroom Application: Assign student(s) the role of 'Tech Support'. This role is responsible for offering support with logging in, asking teacher-created questions to guide exploration, or share their solutions as a model.

5. Create real-world relevance. For maximum student engagement, it is important for problems to be meaningful and connected to values. Making these connections in classrooms increases students’ motivation and persistence in STEM. Showing that STEM skills can help solve real problems in their communities attracts students from groups that are currently underrepresented in STEM fields.  

Classroom Application: Bring together engineering, science, computer science and math with Engineering and Computer Science Essentials™: An Integrated Program. With global settings, relatable characters, and grade-level appropriate concepts, our program creates a world where students can travel from engineering to computer science units seamlessly. 

6. Collaborate and Share. Having students look at each other's projects is a powerful strategy, whether it is a gallery walk or a class presentation. Seeing other students’ work reinforces that there are many different solutions to a problem. It also helps students feel included and proud of their work. Showing real bugs in projects also helps to celebrate and normalize debugging.  

Classroom Application: Allow students to record and narrate their digital artifacts. Encourage them to include an example of where they needed to debug. 

7. Cultivate a growth mindset. Create an environment where students feel comfortable asking questions about STEM and computer science. Learning is about embracing opportunities that challenge our thinking and allow for further development. Encouraging students to have a growth mindset can help overcome feelings of doubt and apprehension when encountering failures. Emphasize and reward the process of learning rather than the results to support growth mindsets in your classroom.  

Classroom Application: Bolster Habits of Mind through EiE's Computer Science Essentials: Integrated Program for grades 1-5. 

Join us on Twitter @eie_org during Scratch Week, May 17-23,to contribute to the conversation around how these strategies have worked in your learning environments. Have additional strategies to share with the EiE community? Comment below or tag us in a post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram! 

 Sources:  

Armenti, S.M. (2018). Computer science education with English learners. [Master’s thesis, University of Rhode Island. Open Access Master’s Theses. 

Wang, J. & Moghadam, S.H. (2017). Diversity barriers in K-12 computer science education: Structural and social. SIGCSE ’17. 615–620. https://doi.org/10.1145/3017680.3017734 

Salac, J., Thomas, C., Butler, C., Sanchez, A., & Franklin, D. (2020). TIPP&SEE: A learning strategy to guide students through use->modify Scratch activities. SIGCSE ‘20. 79–85. https://doi.org/10.1145/3328778.3366821  

Israel, M., Wherfel, Q.M., Pearson, J., Shehab, S., & Tapia, T. (2015). Empowering K-12 students with disabilities to learn computational thinking and computer programming. Teaching Exceptional Children, 48(1). 45–53. https://doi.org/10.1177/0040059915594790 

Estrada, M., Burnett, M., Campbell, A.G., Campbell, P.B., Denetclaw, W.F., Gutiérrez, C.G., Hurtado, S., John, G.H., Matsui, J., McGee, R., Okpodu, C.M., Robinson, T.J., Summers, M.F., Werner-Washburne, M., & Zavala, M.  (2016). Improving underrepresented minority student persistence in STEM. CBE Life Sciences Education, 15(3). https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.16-01-0038 

Microsoft. (2018). Closing the STEM gap. https://query.prod.cms.rt.microsoft.com/cms/api/am/binary/RE1UMWz  

Microsoft. (2019). Guide to inclusive computer science education. https://www.ncwit.org/resources/guide-inclusive-computer-science-education-how-educators-can-encourage-and-engage-all 

Written by EiE Team

Topics: EiE Teaching Tips, Implementing EiE, Create a Generation of Problem Solvers, Computer Science, EiE for Families

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