Posted by Mr. Douglas Edwards, Dr. Diley Hernandez, Dr. Stacy Byous, Mr. Michael Ryan, Dr. Michael Helms, Dr. Meltem Alemdar, Dr. Sunni Newton, Dr. Marion Usselman on Jun 06, 2019

Last year, Mrs. Carter’s (alias) computer science (CS) classroom sounded and felt different than in previous years. 

Full Story 

Last year, Mrs. Carter’s (alias) computer science (CS) classroom sounded and felt different than in previous years. The computer lab tables still zigzagged in the room, the walls were plastered with posters of famous computer scientists and inspirational quotes, and the board still held the lesson objectives for the day. But in the midst of the normal objects and messages that would inhabit a high school CS classroom, a student group was debating whether they should state that the majority of people in Africa were in poverty in their PowerPoint presentation. Their passionate outbursts took pause while they tried to corroborate their arguments in real time by looking up factual information online, comparing country statistics, and thinking critically about those findings.
Mrs. Carter and her mostly 9th and 10th grade students are part of a National Science Foundation-sponsored (NSF Award 1639946) research project called Culturally Authentic Practice to Advance Computational Thinking in Youth, or CAPACiTY. The project’s goals are to create, pilot, and assess a new curriculum for the year-long Georgia high school course, Introduction to Digital Technology (IDT). This new curriculum is grounded in problem-based learning, inquiry, computational thinking, and cultural-relevance pedagogy, while integrating cross-cutting concepts from the Next Generation Science Standards.
As part of the CAPACiTY IDT course, students select a problem relevant to them as teenagers, or to their school or community, and work collaboratively to identify solutions to the problem. To learn computational skills, they design and construct four digital artifacts: (1) a narrated PowerPoint presentation about their topic, (2) a website using Google Sites, (3) coded music in Python using EarSketch, and (4) a mobile app game using App Inventor. The CAPACiTY curriculum targets 15 concepts from the revised CSTA standards, including 3A-AP-22-- “Designing and Developing Computational Artifacts Working in Team Roles Using Collaborative Tools” and 3A-IC-2--“Demonstrating Ways a Given Algorithm Applies to Problems Across Disciplines” (CSTA, 2017).
An essential component of the CAPACiTY IDT curriculum is the integration of culturally authentic practices (CAPs) designed to promote students’ voice, choice, and belonging in the classroom. These pedagogical practices, embedded throughout the curriculum, are grounded in motivational theories like self-determination (Ryan & Deci, 2000), and socio-psychological interventions in education (Yeager & Walton, 2011). They are designed to help decrease the effects of social identity threat that students from underrepresented groups might experience in CS-related fields (Cheryan, Plaut, Davies & Steele, 2009).
The project-based learning nature of the curriculum supports CAPS by allowing students to select their problem. Students in CAPACiTY have chosen to tackle a variety of problems, including sleep deprivation, college debt, obesity, and police brutality, to name a few. By learning how to use their computer science skills to raise awareness about issues they care about, students can experience a sense of agency within the context of their classroom. Additionally, as students build their own professional resumes and explore career opportunities in computer science-related fields, the curriculum directs them to engage in reflective exercises about their personal knowledge acquisition. These reflections can help students develop and maintain a growth mindset when it comes to their emerging computational thinking abilities, which can help buffer the negative effects of stereotype threat (Yeager & Walton, 2011).
A video about CAPACiTY created for the NSF 2018 STEM For All Video Showcase captures testimonials from CAPACiTY students, a teacher and a principal.  Students shared that they think the course is “really fun” and also noted that “a lot of things I don’t understand myself, he [my teammate] helps me out to figure it out.” The teacher states that the course gets students “ready for real-world experiences where they really are solving problems.” CAPACiTY will end its pilot implementation in May 2019, but the research team will continue to investigate the effects of the curriculum on students’ computational thinking, content knowledge, student engagement in CS, and the factors that mediate the relationship of the IDT curriculum to student learning using systems dynamic modeling.
To learn more about the project, speak with members of the CAPACiTY team (including participating teachers), and learn when the curriculum will be available for dissemination, attend the CAPACiTY CSTA presentation on Tuesday, July 9, at 11:15 am.
Cheryan, S., Plaut, V.C., Davies, P.G., Steele, C.M. (2009). Ambient Belonging: How stereotypical cues impact gender participation in computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97 (6), 1045-1060.
Computer Science Teachers Association (2017, September 1). CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, Revised 2017. Retrieved from
Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.
Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81, 267-301.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1639946. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

About the Authors 

Mr. Douglas Edwards, Dr. Diley Hernandez, Dr. Stacy Byous, Mr. Michael Ryan, Dr. Michael Helms, Dr. Meltem Alemdar, Dr. Sunni Newton, Dr. Marion Usselman

The Georgia Institute of Technology Center for Education Integrating Science Mathematics & Computing (CEISMC) CAPACiTY team is made up of members of Georgia Tech CEISMC and the school districts that they partner with to conduct research. Members of the team will present at CSTA 2019 on Tuesday, July 9, in the session Building Student CAPACiTY thru Culturally Authentic Computational Thinking.