Date of Award

5-2017

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS)

Department

Interdisciplinary Program

Advisor

Shaleen Jain

Second Committee Member

Michael Scott

Third Committee Member

Roy Turner

Abstract

This thesis proposes a novel pedagogical framework for teaching environmental and computational thinking concepts to elementary and middle school students. Teaching environmental topics, such as sustainability and ecosystem management, to students through the lens of computational thinking provides unique educational opportunities. Environmental topics are an excellent source for multi-disciplinary learning, as questions concerning human well-being, environmental policy, science, and mathematics can naturally be incorporated into educational discussions and activities. The use of computational modeling allows students to critically reason about and explore environmental concepts by envisioning complexity, and asking and investigating a series of "what if" questions. Students can furthermore reflect on their own relationship with their local ecology.

This thesis aims to answer two questions: "What is a pedagogically appropriate model for applying computational thinking to environmental sustainability learning for elementary and middle school students?" and "What types of new educational perspectives does a computational and environmental approach afford?"

To answer these questions, we created five different computational-environmental activities in the Scratch programming environment. We then deployed each of these activities with various student groups to qualitatively assess student experiences and educational opportunities.

In these case studies, we observed that students used multi-disciplinary knowledge and skills, were engaged and motivated, actively reasoned about environmental concepts using computational thinking practices, and represented and shared ideas among their peers.

This thesis will discuss the motivation behind this framework, describe the framework in greater detail, describe the five activities and case studies built using the framework, and finally conclude with lessons learned and future opportunities.

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