Researchers at Oregon State University are taking an innovative approach to teaching computer science concepts to middle school students using tabletop games such as Connect Four and Battleship. Working in partnership with teachers and administrators at Linus Pauling Middle School in Corvallis, Oregon, the team will develop and investigate a new curriculum to teach algorithmic thinking to sixth and seventh graders.
The project is part of a national movement called CSforALL and funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. This is the second grant impacting K-12 education that Jennifer Parham-Mocello, assistant professor of computer science, has received this year; the first was funded by Google.
The co-principal investigators on the National Science Foundation grant are Martin Erwig, Stretch Professor of Computer Science, and Margaret Niess, emeritus professor of education.
This year, the team is working on curriculum development, which will be completed by the summer of 2020 when the middle school teachers will conduct classes for an Oregon State University STEM Academy summer camp. In the fall of 2020, the teachers will deliver the new curriculum in their sixth and seventh grade classes. The third year, the team will be refining the curriculum and adding more games.
The purpose of the grant is to make computer science more accessible and interesting to a broad range of young people. As a dual language immersion school, Linus Pauling Middle School offers an opportunity for the researchers and teachers to impact students from diverse backgrounds.
In addition to the regular curriculum, the group will be hosting family game nights twice a year at the school so that students can show their families and friends what they have been learning.
“One of the reasons we picked games for teaching computational thinking is because they involve social interactions,” Parham-Mocello said. “So, we thought the game nights would be a fun way for the students to practice and get the families involved.”