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Communications of the ACM


Fostering Computational Literacy in Science Classrooms

classroom with computers

Credit: UCLA

There is widespread and growing agreement that computing should play a more prominent role throughout our education system. The next generation of learners will require a high level of fluency with modes of thinking and inquiry in which computers act as interactive partners. While many students experience computing (via the Web and apps), few students understand computation, and even fewer have experience using computers as tools for scientific inquiry. These skills and perspectives are essential for full and effective participation in today's (and tomorrow's) society.

The development of computer science curricula, standards, and course requirements for secondary schools is an important and useful direction actively being pursued in a variety of initiatives. However, the success of such initiatives will depend heavily on schools' ability to hire and retain qualified teachers; on teachers' ability to implement curriculum that is applicable to scientific inquiry; and on students' ability to make room for new coursework in their already-packed schedules. Although large-scale efforts such as are offering support for computer programming instruction in schools, the magnitude of the challenge is enormous. Even more worrisome is the possibility that an elective-only CS course sequence will fail to attract a diverse population of students, exacerbating the low participation rates of women and other underrepresented groups in computing fields.


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Fostering Computational Literacy in Science Classrooms.