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VELA: Dynamic Activities Advancing Computer Science Concepts For Diverse Student Populations


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In our project, we have designed and developed computer science curricula and activities to help middle school students learn four foundational concepts: variables, expressions, loops, and abstraction. This project builds on prior National Science Foundation-funded work that reveals that many middle school learners struggle with these concepts in introductory programming.

The interactive technology-based and unplugged activities draw on research in dynamic mathematics representations that has shown to help diverse learners better understand similar concepts in mathematics classrooms. The dynamic approach to variation is a significant and potentially transformative departure from current practices in mathematics and computer science teaching and learning.

The digital activities provide a conceptual introduction to variables and expressions (variation, naming, new variables using existing variables in expressions); loops (recognizing repeated patterns, lifting the hood on how loop constructs work); abstraction (hiding complexity of expressions); as well as Boolean logic, operators, and expressions. These activities serve as interactive sandboxes for learners to engage with these concepts before they encounter them in the context of programming.