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Communications of the ACM


Integrating CS to Improve Scores in Math, Science, and English Language Arts: New Result from and Outliers

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Mark Guzdial has a new and interesting empirical result that they describe in this blog post:

Research conducted with 3rd — 5th-grade students in Broward County found that students who did extra CS Fundamentals activities, in classrooms of teachers who reported high levels of resourcefulness, had significantly higher scores on the Achieve3000 reading comprehension exam. But that’s not all. They scored significantly higher on Florida State Math, Science, and English Language Arts Exams too!

We don’t have a full description of the research study, but the Outliers group at U. Chicago has published a preliminary description. The study involved the developed of new curricula that makes explicit ties to the other disciplines:

BCPS’ strategy was to embed Fundamentals lessons in BCPS’ non-negotiable elementary literacy block. To do so, BCPS personnel developed "transdisciplinary" "Time for CS" (Time4CS) modules that included science, ELA, and social studies lessons and associated lessons connected with a problem-based theme. In the 2016-2017 academic year, participating schools implemented two modules for each, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade during BCPS’s existing 180-minute literacy block.

It’s such a good result that I really want to learn more.  Clearly one group did better than the other, but what were the mechanisms? 

  • The teachers in the treatment and control groups were randomly selected, but that doesn’t mean that their students were comparable. Could one group of students be richer than the other, or already know more science?
  • Is the benefit due to the CS or is it the problem-based learning? 
  • What was the other/traditional curriculum?  Is this just about refreshing tired old curriculum, or is about deep CS integration?
  • Was the impact on the student or the teacher? Did the curriculum change the teacher (e.g., made them more innovative and resourceful), and was that teacher change the reason for the better student performance? 
  • How was the CS integrated with the other disciplines? 
  • Did the students learn CS, too, or just the other curriculum?

The Outliers report does a nice summary of open questions:

So, what are we to make of these findings? Like any study, this one elicits a number of new and interesting questions. Why were there significant findings associated with completion of a higher percentage of "extra" CS lessons and completing "additional" CS activities, whereas completion of grade-level specific lessons were not associated with student outcomes? What is the role of teacher resourcefulness and coping in a classroom and how might it be related to student academic achievement? What might explain why teachers who report being more innovative have students with higher academic outcomes?

These findings and associated questions are only a small part of the study findings. Further analyses have examined teacher attitudes toward interdisciplinary teaching and CS and associations between student socio-demographic groups and student outcomes. We look forward to sharing more findings in other informal venues as well as publishing and presenting them more formally.

This study is exploring one of the most important research questions in computing education. Many of us see CS more as a literacy to be used most effectively for teaching integrated with other subjects. Where does CS help in learning other disciplines? How does it help? Do students learn CS, too? I’m looking forward to seeing more on this study.


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