Computational Literacy Final Report: Major Research and Education Activities

October 1, 2007

Computational Literacy: A Study of the Efficacy of Computational Science in High School Biology and Earth and Space Science Classrooms was a three-year research-and-development project funded by an NSF/IERI grant. A multidisciplinary research and development team assembled by the Education Development Center's Center for Children and Technology (EDC/CCT) in collaboration with the Krell Institute, Maryland Virtual High School, and the University of Northern Iowa worked at the intersections of education and computational science to address the challenge of building students' awareness of and facility with computational models, particularly simulations; developing both teachers' and students' computational literacy.

The evolving notion of computational literacy is defined by the project as:an individual's capacity to understand the relationship between domain knowledge and the mathematical and visualization/modeling processes that are the building blocks of computational science.

There are two interdependent components of the project: research and development. A product of the development component of the project is the Computational Laboratory, the project's website. The Computational Laboratory houses four topic modules. Two of the four topic modules were associated with biology-Population Dynamics (PD) and Spread of Disease (SoD)-and two were associated with Earth/Space Science-The Carbon Cycle (CC) and The Rock Cycle (RC). Each topic module is centered on a topic simulation that is the focus of the experimental research study. The research component of the project culminated in the Computational Literacy Experimental Research Study. The 2006-2007 Study was conducted in three states-Maryland, Iowa, and Tennessee- directly involving a total of 44 participating teachers and 1,542 participating students (and affecting an additional 1,639 students), all from 21 schools. The experimental research study examined two research groups. Those teachers and students participating as part of the "treatment" group used the project's computational simulations to test the Computational Literacy project hypothesis that:

Students who use our topic simulations will show greater understanding of the science content as evidenced by their pre- and post-test scores, and better critical thinking and problem solving skills as evidenced by their far transfer test scores (our Logic Test).

Those teachers participating as part of the "control" group taught as they normally do, covering the same topics as those participating as part of the treatment group. Their students engaged with the relevant science topic/s (PD, CC, SoD, RC) without benefit of the project's computational simulations.

The primary goal of the Computational Literacy Experimental Research Study was to test the impact of computational models on science learning with students from diverse academic, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds as measured by three different outcome measures:

PRE- AND POST-TEST-measures the extent to which there are pre-existing differences in baseline knowledge and science learning (treatment and control);

PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT-our Driving Questions gauge students' conceptual understanding of the computational model and their ability to recognize real-world connections, as well as the affordances and limitations of the model (treatment only);

A MEASURE OF FAR TRANSFER-our Logic Test measures students' ability to solve novel problems that are different from the problems they have been solving in their science classes (treatment and control).

In addition to submitting the outcome measures described above for the students in their science classes, teacher research participants were asked to complete and submit:

A TEACHER SURVEY-a web-based form investigating teachers' pedagogical knowledge, backgrounds, and beliefs, as well as their habits and uses for technology in general. (All teacher participants)

A FIDELITY OF IMPLEMENTATION MEASURE-our Topic Teacher Report, for each topic addressed, designed to add some context to student outcome scores for both treatment and control teachers. Teachers were asked to maintain one for the duration of the time students worked with a project-related topic (PD, CC, SoD, RC).

Research Study protocols offered participating teachers (both treatment and control) instructions and guidance through the implementation of the study in their classrooms.

The report details the major research-and-development activities leading up to and including the Computational Literacy Experimental Research Study conducted in school year 2006-2007. The activities described include: Preparation for the Computational Literacy Research Study, Formative Research Activities and Field-Testing, and Implementation of the Computational Literacy Research Study.


Cornelia Brunner
Terri Meade
Margaret Honey
Dixie Ching
Peggy Clements
Ellen Mandinach