January 17, 2023

EDC to Study Computational Thinking in Underserved Elementary Schools

The National Science Foundation has awarded EDC $500,000 to examine how the integration of computational thinking (CT) in grades pre-K–5 may promote interest in computer science (CS) among students from diverse backgrounds.

Called CT Readiness for All, the 30-month project is a collaboration of EDC’s Center for Children and Technology, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, and professional development provider Kelly Powers. The project will field-test an existing CT self-assessment tool to investigate its potential to help elementary schools create CT integration plans and to provide equitable access to CT education for students from traditionally underrepresented groups in CS.

The project builds on two prior studies of CT integration in underserved urban elementary schools by EDC and the Research Alliance, with prior funding by the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund and the National Science Foundation.

“Basic CT competencies such as abstraction, decomposition, and pattern recognition are really important for success in computer science,” says EDC’s Heather Sherwood, EDC researcher and principal investigator of CT Readiness for All. “We want to understand the impact that integrating CT across subject matter can have at the elementary school level, especially in the context of making computer science more interesting and more accessible for all young learners.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in computer and IT-related fields is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual wage in these fields is also higher than that of all other occupations. However, these high-tech fields have struggled to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. Data from 2021 suggests that just 21 percent of computer programmers are women, 6 percent of the CS workforce are Black, and 7 percent are Hispanic.

“These numbers are indicative of a crisis—because we’ve seen that when people from different races, genders, ethnicities, and abilities are not represented in high-tech fields, those fields often ignore those populations’ needs and desires,” says Sherwood.

CT Readiness for All will examine whether the following strategies can help schools broaden participation in CS:

  • Focus on CT integration across subjects and grades at the elementary school level to develop students’ interest in CS
  • Support school leaders and teachers to plan for the systematic integration of CT across multiple grades, subject areas, and types of classrooms to ensure that diverse students have access to meaningful CT learning
  • Provide school leaders and teachers with professional development on CT integration with a particular focus on equitable and culturally responsive approaches

In addition to establishing an evidence base for the CT Integration Framework, CT Readiness for All will also help develop a professional development model and additional resources intended to support scalable and sustainable integration of CT at the elementary school level. 

Learn more about EDC’s work on computer science education and computational thinking.