Lighting up History: Integrating Mathematics and Computational Thinking in the Science Classroom

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National Science Teachers Association

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Computational thinking skills are central professional practices across science disciplines. Students need to engage in these skills during their K–12 education to be prepared for STEM careers. Weintrop and colleagues (2016) identified four major areas where mathematics and computational thinking connect to scientific practice: (1) working with data, (2) modeling and simulation practices, (3) using programming and computers to solve scientific problems, and (4) systems thinking practices. This article shares one project, a programmable paper circuit timeline that highlights the use of mathematics and computational thinking practices in the middle school science classroom while students learn science history. By programmable paper circuit, we refer to a circuit that is created using copper tape and light-emitting diode (LED) lights, but then is connected to a microcontroller so that it becomes programmable (see Figure 1). The copper tape is like a sticker, with adhesive on one side. However, the adhesive is not always conductive. This programmable paper circuit allows teachers to engage students in a learning activity that explores the concepts of energy conversion (from electric to light energy), energy storage, and polarity. Through the construction of this computational circuit, students learn about these concepts. In introducing the project, teachers are able to provide direct instruction around these concepts that is anchored in the phenomena students encounter with their circuits. Free detailed and standards-based lesson plans on the science content can be found at the Chaos Learning Lab (see Online Resources for link).

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