UMass Dartmouth researchers receive $2.1M National Science Foundation grant

Sep 4, 2019

UMass Dartmouth researchers have been awarded a $2,116,315 grant by the National Science Foundation to help elementary school teachers integrate problem-solving skills common for computer programming into their math and science classes.

“The future of work and the future of citizenship require that our young people develop an unprecedented level of problem-solving skills and collaborative abilities,” UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Robert E. Johnson said. “Through this research, our world class faculty will develop new strategies for elementary school teachers to unleash their students’ potential. This is an example of how our region benefits from having a national tier one university in its midst.”

The principal investigator on the grant is Director of the Kaput Center for Research and Innovation in STEM Education and Professor of Mathematics Education Chandra Orrill.

Orrill’s research team seeks to help elementary school teachers engage their students in computational thinking, the kind of thinking that computer programmers use. Students will be challenged to think about solutions in ways that would allow a computer to solve them, such as creating solutions that require a series of ordered steps to carry out.

“These thinking skills are important for students because they will build confidence in tackling complex problems,” Dr. Orrill said. “Students prepared with computational thinking skills will be better equipped to persist when faced with any challenging problem. They will learn to deal with ambiguity and use creativity to solve problems, and they will learn to communicate and collaborate with others in their problem solving.”

While computational thinking has been taught to college-level students for years, the research team has been exploring how these approaches can be extended to K-12 students. With backgrounds in math, science, and computer science education and pedagogy, the team will be working in three New Bedford elementary schools over the next four years.