A Culturally Relevant Approach to Spatial Computational Thinking Skills and Career Awareness through an Immersive Virtual Environment
The project will design and research a project for developing upper-elementary Latinx students' spatial computational thinking skills and awareness of computationally-intensive careers. The project will design immersive, culturally relevant, and active learning experiences in Minecraft: Education Edition (MEE). Minecraft, which is used by millions worldwide, enables participants to explore a three-dimensional world, discover and use raw materials, engineer new environments, create tools and structures, and simple machines. This videogame platform emphasizes family engagement, near-peer mentorship, peer collaboration, and expert modeling. The project will develop a unique set of extended and age-appropriate spatial programming functions and engage participants in developing Spatial Computational Thinking Skills (SCT). These skills will support the ability to learn to abstract key spatial features, to decompose shapes with geometric representation and recognize patterns, and to use programming and computing tools for spatial algorithm design. The project will introduce participants to computationally-intensive STEM careers where these skills are increasingly demanded in areas such as robotics, virtual reality, and smart geospatial systems. The project will develop a unique set of bilingual, extended and age-appropriate visual programming functions to enable thousands of upper elementary school students to engage in high-quality spatial programming learning experiences. Participants will be able to access the game in school or at home. Due to low-cost materials and the self-paced learning design, the learning activities are flexible and affordable for families and educators who have different needs.
Through design-based research, the project will address two research questions: 1) How can an immersive virtual learning environment be designed to support upper-elementary school Latinx students' spatial computational thinking skill development, career exploration, and family engagement? 2) What are the immediate and sustained impacts of the program on participating elementary school students, parents/guardians, and college students? The project will begin with usability and feasibility studies that will inform the iterative design of the learning experience and environment, followed up by experimental, controlled studies. The project will collect data using mixed-methods including participant reflections, think-alouds, surveys of career interest development, observations, interviews, data analytics, and assessments of computational, spatial skills and self-efficacy. The research findings revealed through this project can provide rich insights into program designs that foster Latinx students’ interest and awareness in computing and effective strategies to support family engagement, peer collaboration, and near-peer mentor facilitation in an immersive virtual learning environment. The project learning environment, teacher professional development sessions, and lesson plans will be shared in the Minecraft World Library to be scaled to a national level, incorporated in afterschool programs, and used in elementary school classrooms as part of computer science education integrated STEAM curriculum. Project research findings will be shared with researchers, developers, and STEM educators through conference presentations and professional journals. Family participation will be supported through bilingual resources and other supports available through the project website. The project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts, and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.