The Building Systems from Scratch project is using multiple cycles of design-based research to integrate systems and computational thinking into middle school learning about climate science by interweaving game design and climate science learning. Students will explore a systems approach to learning about climate dynamics and climate change that integrates humans as a central component. The project focuses on relevant disciplinary content, science practices, and computational thinking aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and Massachusetts Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards. The project is based on the idea that when young people build games, they construct knowledge at the same time. We conjecture that students learn science and computation practices, and the dynamics of climate science, better by building games than by direct instruction or student inquiry alone.
The project is developing and testing the learning environment in which the students build their games. The instructional approach includes a view of students as knowledge producers, and of classrooms as networks of expertise distributed among students. Instruction includes:
- Collaborative pair programming for game design
- Student research of climate science based on videos, simulations, and modeling activities
- Critique sessions that are art studio-inspired
- A focus on game design as consisting of three related elements, reality (climate content), meaning (what the player is intended to learn), and play (how the final game product relates to computation).
Finally, the project is also researching how teachers can be supported to deepen their integration of computing into science instruction.