Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers have received a $745,612 grant to develop a website that children can use to design and play math games that develop computational thinking skills.
Ivon Arroyo, associate professor in learning sciences and technologies at WPI, is principal investigator on the three-year project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Co-principal investigators at WPI are Erin Ottmar, assistant professor of learning sciences and psychology, and Gillian Smith, assistant professor in computer science and interactive media and game development.
Computational thinking is a foundation of computer programming that requires abstract thinking and involves breaking a problem into steps a computer could execute. Computational skills typically are not taught until college, but children can learn them because they naturally create and play games with complex rules that require sophisticated thinking, Arroyo said.
“Computational skills are important because they can improve access to higher-level STEM careers,” Arroyo said. “We want everybody, regardless of socioeconomic status, to have access to a skill that could pull them toward STEM careers.”
The WPI team will build on previous research developing the Wearable Learning Cloud Platform (WLCP), a website for teachers and students. Under the guidance of teachers, students use the platform to play games and create math games for other students. The games require players to physically move around and collaborate in groups while solving math problems and entering solutions into mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets. Designing games requires users to develop computational skills, break problems into pieces, consider the players’ perspectives, and anticipate their behaviors.