Doctor of Philosophy
Computational thinking can be conceptualized as patterns of thinking which align with certain fundamental computer science processes. While this algorithmic way of thinking has always been integral to computer science, it has recently gained momentum as a valuable approach to problem solving in a wide variety of contexts. Education researchers highlight the potential of computational thinking to transform, enrich, and revitalize teaching and learning experiences, by providing a systematic framework for analysis and enabling powerful computational tools to be incorporated to further enhance problem-solving activities. Research suggests that in order to maximize the affordances of computational thinking, it should be integrated into all subjects, from primary to tertiary, in meaningful and subject-specific ways. However, due to persistent theoretical and practical barriers, comprehensive integration of computational thinking into school and university curricula has not yet been achieved. One particularly strong obstacle identified in the literature is the lack of practical resources detailing how to effectively incorporate computational thinking into subjects beyond computer science. Using a case study research design with over 1000 participants, my project investigated an approach to integrating computational thinking into a first-year calculus course at McMaster University. Students engaged in computational thinking by working on computer coding activities developed to complement the mathematical content taught in the course. Following each set of activities, students responded to prompts designed to determine: (1) how students’ conceptual understanding of calculus concepts changes in response to working on problem-solving and mathematical modelling activities which incorporate computational thinking, and (2) how students’ learning experiences are transformed when they explore calculus concepts, ideas and techniques using computational tools and models. A qualitative content analysis of these responses revealed that exploring calculus concepts with code modified students’ perceptions of mathematics, enhanced their mathematical learning experiences, and offered unique coding affordances. Further analyzing the data using a literacy framework helped situate the results of this study within the broader context of a computational literacy. This research augments the ongoing project, Computational Thinking in Mathematics Education, by providing insights and rich feedback on an approach to designing and integrating coding activities into a tertiary mathematics curriculum.
Summary for Lay Audience
Computational thinking describes a collection of thinking patterns and problem-solving strategies which are common in computer science. Recently, education researchers have suggested that this algorithmic way of thinking has the potential to transform, enrich, and revitalize teaching and learning experiences in a wide variety of disciplines. Despite this recognition, persistent theoretical and practical barriers have prevented its widespread integration into school and university curricula. The current study investigated an approach to integrating computer coding activities, which encourage and support computational thinking, into a first-year calculus course at McMaster University. An analysis of students’ feedback revealed that exploring calculus concepts with computer code modified their perceptions of mathematics as a discipline, enhanced their mathematical learning experiences, and presented unique opportunities to interact with mathematical concepts in novel ways. This study provides fresh insights into an approach to designing and integrating coding activities into a tertiary mathematics curriculum, augmenting on-going research projects in this area.
Clements, Erin, "Investigating an Approach to Integrating Computational Thinking into an Undergraduate Calculus Course" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7043.
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