Dwyer, H., Boe, B., Hill, C., Franklin, D., & Harlow, D. (2013). Computational Thinking for Physics: Programming Models of Physics Phenomenon in Elementary School. In Engelhardt, Churukian, & Jones (Eds.) 2013 PERC Proceedings (pp. 133-136). College Park, MD: American Association of Physics Teachers.


Type: Empirical

Purpose: The paper is a part of a curriculum development project on integration of computational thinking (CT) and physics and designing a learning progression about CT for grades 4-6. Its purpose is to present an example where students iteratively develop a model to explain the momentum and acceleration of an object, including mastering computational thinking concepts to simulate the model. The purpose is also to present findings from related research on fourth graders' pre-instructional knowledge with regard to CT.

Findings: After having focus group interviews with students on knowledge about computers, complex decisions, and sequential procedures, along with a drawing activity where students had to give instructions to another student, two findings emerged: 4th graders recognized the need for instructions but struggled to produce them - they did not have enough specificity/detail (e.g., location, position, pattern; they just used metaphors); and 4th graders recognized that small errors could affect large changes (e.g., the difference between a lower case "j" and an upper case "J").

Recommendations: Curriculum implications: activities should be developed with the understanding of students' prior knowledge.


Sample Size: 55

Participant Type: Fourth grade students

Notes: The sample comes from 4 elementary schools from California. A wide range of student performance levels and backgrounds was selected so that the school sample is representative. ELL student percentage ranged from anywhere from 22% to 81%.