Computational Thinking for High School Biology Classes

As the world of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) becomes increasingly computational, promoting students’ computational thinking is essential to prepare them for future STEM careers.

Neag School assistant professor of learning sciences, Ido Davidesco, has received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a month-long computational thinking unit in high school biology classes. Davidesco will work with Neag School colleagues Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead, Christopher Rhoads, and John Settlage, as well as Aaron Kyle from Columbia University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

The project will enhance students’ computational thinking through hands-on neural engineering experiences. Computational thinking involves strategies like using abstractions and pattern recognition to represent problems in new ways, organizing and analyzing data, breaking problems down into smaller pieces, thinking about a problem as a series of ordered steps or “algorithmic thinking,” and generalizing this process to a wider variety of problems.

“In K-12 education, computational thinking has largely been constrained to computer science and programming courses,” Davidesco, the project lead, says. “This project addresses a critical need to incorporate computational thinking into other STEM fields, in this case, biology and engineering, to introduce students to the computational nature of science nowadays.”

As part of the program students will measure their own muscle and brain activity using low-cost, wearable sensors. They will then analyze the data and design a brain-computer interface to turn neural activity into real-world output, like a mechanical claw, powered by brain activity. In addition to designing curriculum materials, the interdisciplinary project team will develop an interactive web-based app to guide students through the design process and a complimentary professional development program for teachers. Neuroscience and engineering Ph.D. students and postdocs will serve as STEM mentors for the high school students.

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NSF CAREER Awardee Ido Davidesco Recognized

NSF CAREER Award logo

A prestigious group of UConn faculty are being honored this year as the University’s latest recipients of early-career awards from the National Science Foundation, recognizing their potential as role models in education and research.

The UConn Board of Trustees and Interim President Radenka Maric recognized 10 faculty members, including Neag School Assistant Professor Ido Davidesco, at Wednesday’s trustees meeting, noting that the NSF has indicated others might also receive the prestigious recognition in coming months.

The CAREER Awards come with five-year grants that are especially valuable to support early-career faculty in their research and their career development.

UConn received as many or more awards in the past three years as many leading research institutions, Maric said, including Dartmouth College, Emory University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, California Institute of Technology, Tufts University, Vanderbilt University, Yale University, and others.

“It tells you that we are a powerhouse in (having) faculty with curiosity, with passion to teach, and with passion for science, and I think that with those faculty, we can achieve new highs,” Maric said, adding that UConn also prioritizes retaining talented faculty with support that can help them flourish at the University.

She also noted that the new CAREER Award recipients are among many young faculty that UConn has recruited in recent years, including some fresh from finishing their postdoctoral programs, and who’ve made an immediate positive impact.

As Maric said at Wednesday’s meeting, “Our students come to UConn to learn from the best”.

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