Integrating STEM and Computational Thinking in Meaningful Ways

• With the increasing attention being placed on the integration of science, engineering, and computational thinking that is seen as states adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2012), and as states adopt computer science standards, teachers are being asked to integrate engineering and computational thinking in their science (NRC, 2014). While there is evidence that this trend is changing, rarely is engineering content required or even offered in elementary teacher education (O’Brien et al., 2014) and in 2012 only 1% of elementary teachers had taken any coursework in engineering (Banilower et al., 2013). Additionally, research analyzing the integration of engineering into classroom instruction has shown this practice to be difficult (Author, 2017; Guzey, Moore & Harwell, 2016). This is especially true at the elementary level as teachers often have limited: (a) background and experience with engineering (O’Brien et al., 2014), (b) time to teach science with or without engineering (Banilower et al., 2013), (c) experiences with integrating across subjects (Moore, Stolhmann et al. 2014; Wang et al. 2011), and (d) opportunities for professional development (PD) and access to materials in this area (Author, 2014a; Banilower et al., 2013). Therefore, it is important to continue to develop our understanding of what this integration looks like in the elementary setting and how to prepare and support teachers to implement this type of integrated instruction in their classrooms. This hands-on session will present two models for how educators could choose to integrate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) plus computational thinking (CT). Our model, PictureSTEM, uses STEM trade books to build the context for an engineering design challenge, while also integrating science, mathematics, and computational thinking content throughout the unit. The second model uses Scratch Jr as a way to teach CT and reinforce STEM learning.
• All participants in the ASTE conference are welcome to join the workshop. However, this workshop would be most interesting to teacher educators (especially those who teach grades K-2), educational researchers, and curriculum developers who are interested in integrated STEM, engineering and computational thinking. The workshop will demonstrate two models of what effective and meaningful integrated STEM and CT lessons look like at the K-2 level.
• Finally, exploring and constructing science, engineering and CT practices and identifying the challenges and opportunities associated with science teacher’s implementation and integration of these area can help methods instructors and professional development providers who work with in- and pre-service teachers to think about how to enhance and improve their pedagogical skills within integrated science, engineering and computational thinking instruction to create better learning environments.

• Mrs. Elizabeth Gajdzik, M.S.Ed. is the Assistant Director for the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Mrs. Gajdzik obtained her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in mathematics education and Bachelor degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in mathematics from Baylor University. She has also taken several graduate level courses in Engineering Education at Purdue University. Mrs. Gajdzik uses her STEM education background to develop research-based engineering and integrated STEM resources and curriculum as well as organize and provide professional development to formal, informal, and homeschool educators. Mrs. Gajdzik has served as the Purdue University PI and is part of the team that collaborated with Texas A&M University and ETA hand2mind to develop Hands On STEM: STEM in Action, the first supplemental STEM program to be certified by to her work at INSPIRE, Mrs. Gajdzik was a district mathematics specialist and educator in Texas.
• Dr. Ibrahim H. Yeter is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Dr. Yeter obtained his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction emphasized on Engineering Education and a Master’s degree in Petroleum Engineering at Texas Tech University. He is highly interested in conducting research examining teachers’ beliefs and practices while utilizing engineering practices and computational thinking in their classrooms; and how these beliefs and practices influence students’ learning outcomes; and how these outcomes affect students’ long-term productive success. He currently has more than 50 scholarly works in the STEM/engineering education field, including articles, proceedings, and presentations. In 2017, Dr. Yeter received an Early Career Researcher Award from European Science Education Research Association (ESERA). He is one of only two scholarship recipients awarded by National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) to attend the ESERA summer research conference in České Budějovice, the Czech Republic in August 2016. In addition, Dr. Yeter was named as a Jhumki Basu Scholar by the NARST in 2014.
• Dr. Kristina Tank is an assistant professor of Science Education at Iowa State University where she teaches primarily undergraduate courses in science education for elementary and early childhood education (ECE) majors that include elementary and ECE science methods, but also a Toying with Technology course that looks at how technology, engineering and computational thinking can facilitate integration of other content areas. Dr. Tank’s research is centered around how to better support and prepare educators to meet the challenge of integrating STEM disciplines in a manner that supports teaching and learning across multiple disciplines. She is currently working as part of two larger projects, with the first focusing on how to leverage collaborations between engineers, preservice teachers and cooperating teachers to better integrate engineering and improve STEM teaching in 3rd -5th grade classrooms. The second project is looking at the design and influence of computational thinking across a variety of contexts and within early elementary STEM curriculum that uses engineering and literary contexts to facilitate student learning in STEM. Dr. Tank has also been involved in the design and delivery of multiple professional development workshops looking at integrating engineering, STEM, and computational thinking to facilitate science learning with elementary and middle school teachers.
• Important Notes:
o Dr. Tank and Mrs. Gajdzik are two of the three authors of the PictureSTEM units that will be presented.
o Dr. Tank, Mrs. Gajdzik and Dr. Yeter are all part of the NSF STEM+C grant (#1543175) that the CT competencies and their integration into the units were developed.
• This workshop will provide attendees with the opportunity to experience two models of STEM+CT integration. The first model uses picture books and an engineering design challenge to facilitate an integrated approach that emphasizes the connections between disciplines. The focus on engineering and literature allows for a context in which students can explore the interdisciplinary nature of learning science and mathematics through engineering and within a real-world context (Brophy et al., 2008). The engineering components of these modules helps to tie science, technology, mathematics and computational thinking learning together by building off the natural interconnectedness of engineering and by requiring students to apply those concepts through an engineering design challenge. The second model uses Scratch Jr. as a platform for integrating STEM and CT learning. Participants will engage in algorithm design to program a solution for a STEM based challenge.
• Through this workshop, we anticipate that teachers will gain a better understanding of STEM+CT integration and how to use engineering to facilitate meaningful connections between STEM fields while setting the learning in a real-world context. Teachers will also learn about implementation strategies and explore what it means to use high-quality literature as a means to integrate STEM+CT in the early elementary classroom.
• Participants will participate in rigorous discussion throughout the presentation. The presenters will stay in different places throughout the room to be closer to the participants and monitor their conversations to identify challenges and work to find solutions. Collaboration will be key therefore; participants will work in teams of 3-4 members. The presenters will provide points of discussion the groups and then bring the most challenging problems to the entire room.
• Ensure that participants understand integrated STEM and CT competencies, each presenter will walk through the audience to identify learning problems common that is (are) the most difficulty addressing to participants in a particular activity to investigate how they can solve such problems and overcome learning challenges.
• This hands-on workshop session will highlight one of the K-2 STEM+CT integration modules that use picture books to motivate an engineering design project while meaningfully integrating science, computational thinking, and mathematics content throughout the module. Participants will work through a modified version of the unit with the focus on the engineering design challenge and how the science, computational thinking, and mathematics learning can be reinforced through high-quality books followed by STEM+CT activities.
• Participants will also participate in a Scratch Jr. activity to highlight another method of integrating STEM and CT. Participants will watch a short clip and then use Scratch Jr to solve a STEM challenge.
• Participants will discuss the specific science, computational thinking, and mathematics concepts addressed in the module before engaging in the engineering design project, which exemplifies how engineering helps to facilitate the connection between concepts and disciplines.
• Participants will also be a part of an interactive discussion about how these modules could be implemented in their own curriculum.
• In order to maintain ongoing learning and collaboration:
o Each presenter will share their contact information, including the emails, institution and address so that participants can keep in touch with us in case they have questions.
o All three K-2 PictureSTEM units are available at no cost to download and use at The website also has a place for educators to reach out if they have questions or feedback.
o We will provide a program agenda and handouts that include key components and additional STEM+CT resources and ideas.