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December 1, 2022, 9:42 PM EST

IUB FINAL update: Power has been restored to residence halls, IMU and other areas. Full restoration expected soon. We continue to monitor the situation.

Expanding computer science to early childhood education

The project will introduce children to computational thinking, which involves breaking down complex problems into manageable pieces, identifying steps and sequences to solve the problem and generalizing a solution to solve similar problems.

Computer science education in early childhood is in high demand – but without enough teachers to tackle the problem, along with underrepresentation of gender and ethnic minorities in the STEM workforce, there remains a gap in this subject. A new project from IU School of Education faculty will help change that.

The project, “Implementing Mixed Reality for Inclusive and Embodied Learning Experience for Young Children,” will introduce children to computational thinking, which involves breaking down complex problems into manageable pieces, identifying steps and sequences to solve the problem and generalizing a solution to solve similar problems.

Kyungbin Kwon, Associate Professor of Instructional Systems Technology and principal investigator of the project, imagined that kids could communicate with a robot using symbols to find a path, as virtual objects were overlaid on a classroom floor, which became the main motive of the project. Besides Kwon, the project team includes IST Professor Thomas Brush and Mehmet Dalkilic, Professor of Computer Science with the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, along with Northern Illinois University colleagues Yanghee Kim and Jaejun Hwang.

Learning experiences in early childhood affect students’ attitudes and readiness for future learning. Being introduced to computer science education in engaging and supportive ways can be critical to young children.

Kyungbin Kwon

With a grant of over $724,000 from the National Science Foundation, the team will spend three years researching and developing an innovative mixed reality (MR) learning environment combining visual displays and a robot with programmable movement. Children in grades K-2 will program the robot to solve path-finding problems. Hints and obstacles in each problem scenario will be presented on a computer tablet. The project environment will be designed mainly for one-on-one use wirelessly and flexibly in either formal or informal settings. Participating children and teachers will be recruited through partnerships with schools in communities that have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM.

“Learning experiences in early childhood affect students’ attitudes and readiness for future learning,” Kwon explained. “Being introduced to computer science education in engaging and supportive ways can be critical to young children. Considering that children’s interaction with a learning environment is fundamentally multisensory and multimodal, this project intends to develop an optimal learning environment supporting natural multimodal ways of interactions, including cognitive, social-emotional and physical engagement.”

“We hope this project successfully develops the learning system and learning activities that students enjoy and teachers can use easily,” he added. “The success of the project will contribute to developing early STEM readiness as an essential pipeline for diverse STEM talents. We want to see young children’s proficiency in learning with and on the technology frontier that can be transferred to working with technology in later years. Additionally, our research with advanced multimodal data science to authentically assess children’s learning behaviors will provide implications for the valid evaluation of performance and learning progress.”

Kwon was especially appreciative of the Office of Research and Development for their support in securing the grant for this project.

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