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Comp Hydro - Engaging Students in Using Computational Thinking


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Groundwater contamination, urban flooding, and balancing competing interests for water are examples of complex water problems facing many communities. Preparing an environmentally literate public who can engage in problem-solving around these issues requires supporting students in learning to use and interpret computer models of water flow through systems. Comp Hydro is an innovative high school curriculum project that uses a variety of physical models, maps, and computer models to help students understand principles of water flow, data interpretation, and computational thinking. We have four curriculum units, each contextualized within a water problem of concern to the local community. In each unit, students use physical models to understand principles of water flow through watersheds or aquifers. Students interpret maps of these systems, making connections between three-dimensional models and two-dimensional representations. Throughout each unit, students use specially-designed Net Logo models to learn computational thinking practices such as defining systems, identifying parameters, and discretizing time and space. Lessons that put students in a physical simulation of the discretized space of the computer model help them to "think like a computer" to simulate how computers model water pathways. Students then interpret representations of contamination plumes or runoff and model potential solutions to problems. Our goal is for students to use hydrologic concepts to interpret complex representations of data and use computational thinking to analyze and critique representations and models. We hope that students will then be able to use these practices to participate in community problem-solving around the water issues that affect them most.