Denise Cummings-Clay, Ph.D.
Designing a new assignment in a course can be a challenge. But, if you engage in professional development (PD) and the process of reflection, this challenge might yield a cutting-edge learning experience for your students.
Participating in a PD initiative offered last summer, designed to support faculty interested in integrating Computational Thinking (CT) in a course, I was inspired to design a new assignment that was engaging for my students focused on movement in a Teacher Education course entitled, “Music and Movement.” For clarity, CT refers to the thought processes and attitudes involved in formulating problems and expressing solutions as computational steps that can be carried out by a computer, a human, or both (Cuny, Snyder, & Wing, 2010; Aho, 2011; and Lee, 2016).
My challenge was to integrate CT in an assignment in a course that was starting. This was risky since the assignment was not developed prior to the semester’s start. What made all the difference was another PD opportunity offered at the start of the Fall Semester entitled, “Infusing Computational Thinking & Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to your Curriculum.” The PD content supplied the vehicle for faculty to integrate CT in their courses via the usage of the UDL 5E Phases Chart. The five phases with the beginning activity in each phase included:
- Engage – Know/wonder activity or video.
- Explore – Troubleshooting activity.
- Explain – Video/slides/explaining how the Internet works.
- Elaborate – Modelling how data travels through the Internet.
- Evaluate – Rewrite a troubleshooting narrative (CTPD, 2021).
As a professor in the Early-Childhood Education unit at Hostos, lesson plan development is taught in multiple Education courses with templates. However, usage of this 5E Phases Chart enabled faculty to design a lesson plan designed in a strategic student-centered format. The chart provides an effective framework for student engagement in an assignment, promotes student inquiry and research, gives clarity to the student’s role and the professor’s role in the learning experience focuses the lesson design on writing clear algorithms or steps for students to follow, encompasses prompts for resources, and ensures that the lesson design includes expected lesson outcomes with an assessment to evaluate what was learned. See the 5E sample chart below.
PD sparked the brainstorming process, offered ideas for what to include in a new assignment, and specified a mentor during the lesson plan design. The process also yielded numerous resources to offer students to help them complete the assignment. Furthermore, an assessment tool was developed to evaluate student learning outcomes.
Two parts comprised my assignment. In Part I, the student was to submit a debugged algorithm of an animated dance project. Resources like written documents, videos, and/or coding tools were provided as part of the lesson plan to help students accomplish each segment of the overall assignment. In Part II, the student prepared a Computational, Critical Thinking Reflection Exercise to include (in separate paragraphs) changes made to the initial algorithm to simplify the movements, a list of the major movements that required debugging, a discussion of how the dance party project (using the student’s debugged algorithm) could be used in the classroom, and an indication of whether patterns were included or not included in the algorithm with an explanation of the rationale for pattern usage or lack of usage.
This assignment was piloted in the course during the last third of the course. By integrating CT in the course, live during the semester, the students learned CT vocabulary, experienced coding skill development to produce movement, and via reflective analysis, determine how they could use CT in the classrooms for which they are preparing to teach. Although risky while a course is live, the opportunity of using the UDL 5E Chart framework to develop a new assignment was energizing. Moreover, the 5E Chart framework served as an incubator where CT could be integrated into a Teacher Education course via a new assignment.
Aho, A.V. (2011). Ubiquity Symposium: Computation and Computational Thinking, Ubiquity, 2011(1).
Bybee, R. W. (2009). The BSCS 5E Instructional Model and 21st Century Skills. The National Academies Board on Science Education. Retrieved from https://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_073327.pdf
Cuny, J., Snyder, L., & Wing, J.M. (2010). Demystifying computational thinking for non-computer scientists. Unpublished manuscript in progress, referenced in https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~CompThink/resources/TheLinkWing.pdf
CUNY Teacher Education & Robin Hood Foundation (2021). Infusing Computational Thinking & Universal Design for Learning to your Curriculum Professional Development/CT Definitions & 5E Model Exercise Templates.
Google’s Exploring Computational Thinking Website (g.co/exploringCT).
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) (2011). Work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CNS-1030054. Retrieved from Computational_Thinking_Operational_Definition_ISTE.pdf
Lee, I. (2016). Computational thinking for youth in practice, Research Gate. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234810765_Computational_thinking_for_youth_in_practice