Computational thinking is a skill set that is new to many students. Providing accessible and inclusive learning experiences is particularly important for students historically underrepresented in STEM disciplines.
Teachers can establish, support, and grow a student community inclusive of students historically underrepresented in STEM disciplines (e.g. African Americans/Blacks, Latinx, Native Americans/Alaskan Natives, English language learners, female-identifying students and neurodiverse learners). Presented here are some strategies to break the stereotype of who can and should participate in computing by changing how and why students engage in computational thinking practices. To further envision an equitable, culturally relevant computational thinking pathway in your school or district, explore the “Envisioning a Culturally Relevant Computational Thinking Pathway” reference sheet.
- Making connections to students’ lives and interests by providing students agency to explore questions and design computational solutions that are connected to their experiences and have real-world applications. Teachers are not always aware of the interests and experiences of their students, particularly if they have a different cultural background. Therefore, it is particularly important to provide students opportunities to express their own curiosities and connections and allow those to drive the learning sequence.
- Examining oppressive structures in society by prompting students to express, share, and discuss experiences of inequality, both their own and those of marginalized groups they may or may not be a part of. Computational tools provide students an opportunity to model these instances of systemic inequality and/or design innovative technological solutions to promote a more equitable world.
- Providing students choice in their creation of computational artifacts by curating and modeling a variety of product outputs (e.g., interactive art, digital stories, e-textiles, video games, and simulations) that align with learning objectives. This is particularly important for neurodiverse learners who may benefit from different modes of engagement. This flexibility allows more powerful learning experiences as teachers create relevant and authentic design challenges, and students design, create, and iteratively share and revise their own personal digital creations.
- Collaborating to design and refine computational products by working with peers to troubleshoot design problems and iteratively share and revise computational artifacts. Structuring collaborative activities for shared responsibility and voice, particularly within a diverse pairing of students, can provide opportunities that increase student confidence.
- Designing and assessing computational artifacts for diverse users by eliciting multiple perspectives from users with different abilities and backgrounds. Students may engage in empathy interviews to understand points of view that are different from their own. Additionally, they should have multiple opportunities to share computational artifacts with users of different abilities and backgrounds and make revisions to increase accessibility and remove bias.
- Providing accessible learning materials by designing instructional materials using Universal Design for Learning (UDL). For example, consider how to scaffold information and processes for each student. Additionally, create accessible learning experiences by providing appropriate background information and using appropriate fonts, languages, and visualizations. For more information, see “Empowering K-12 Students with Disabilities to Learn Computational Thinking and Computer Programming” by Maya Israel, Quentin Wherfel, Jamie Pearson, Saadeddine Shehab, and Tanya Tapia.
How inclusive integration can look in the classroom
Our partner Kennan Scott, a middle school teacher in Oakland, leveraged design thinking and agency by design to provide a platform for his students to expose and address injustices faced by individuals in the community. By using empathy interviews with family and community members, students in Kennan’s middle school science class designed apps that supported the safety of people in their community.
“The students were able to get more technical with applications and produce a higher level of application because they were able to dive deeper into the cause and the reasoning for what they were doing. It drove home the idea that this is a transformative act — that you can use the creativity and the power of computational thinking to actually make a change.” – Kennan Scott
Teachers will know that students are being provided equitable opportunities to engage in computational thinking because they may observe that students are:
Making connections to their lives and interests
Examining oppressive structures in society
Provided choice in their creation of computational artifacts
Collaborating to design and refine computational products
Designing and assessing computational artifacts for diverse users
Providing accessible learning materials
Ask students to reflect on their process or progress with these prompting questions: