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NSF Grant to Research Teaching CS and Computational Thinking via Minecraft

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SMU's Corey Clark and student

SMU Assistant Professor Corey Clark, shown here with a student, is Principal Investigator on the NSF's STEM+C curriculum grant.

The Lyle School of Engineering, Guildhall, and the Simmons School of Education & Human Development at Southern Methodist University will use a $1,521,616 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to research teaching computer science and computational thinking through the popular video game, Minecraft.

Research will span the fields of game design, human computer interaction, machine learning, curriculum design, and education assessment by integrating STEM+C (computing) based curriculum directly into Minecraft. And the project will help advance knowledge in game-based learning by building on techniques and experiences from commercial game design. The game and infrastructure produced through the research will serve as a vital computing resource for middle and high school educators.

The grant was awarded to Corey Clark, deputy director of research at SMU Guildhall and an assistant professor of Computer Science at Lyle; Eric Larson, associate professor in Computer Science at Lyle; and Leanne Ketterlin Geller, professor and Texas Instrument Endowed Chair in Education at Simmons. Research begins this month with funding extending through 2022. The researchers' aim is to create a more stable, ethical, and inclusive data science workforce by broadening the interest in data science to a more diverse population of K-12 students.

"We're presented with the challenge of finding creative ways to positively impact student outcomes in STEM and the value it can provide in the learning experience," says Ketterlin Geller. "We struggle with K-12 student engagement in math and science so this project is an optimal way to help us generate new interest while meeting our education goals and seeing students succeed and excel in these fields."

"A key initiative of STEM+C is to cultivate the skills for the next generation of data scientists, information scientists, and engineers. Video games provide a technique to engage the next generation of students in a fun and intuitive manner," says Clark. "Games are developed around fundamental activities, or gameplay atoms, which reflect the experiential learning process through a trial and error in-game conveyance/feedback loop."

Research will integrate curriculum that aligns with education standards such as Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M), Next Generation Science Standards (2013), Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA-2017), and California Computer Science Content Standards (CACS-CS 2019) into the successful loops found in Minecraft. These loops contain game mechanics that have shown to engage a large demographic of players across age, gender, race, and socio-economic factors. The project will integrate feedback from educational stakeholders, including teachers and students. Key outcomes from engaging in gameplay that are assessed include changes in students' interest, attitudes, beliefs, and self-efficacy in STEM+C, engagement in collaborative open-ended solution making, and achievement in related computing and mathematics concepts.


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