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Collaborative Research: Debugging by Design: Developing a Tool Set for Debugging with Electronic Textiles to Promote Computational and Engineering Thinking in High School


Debugging is pervasive in both computing education and more generally in problem-solving across many disciplines. Project "Debugging by Design" focuses on the development of debugging for engineering electronic textiles as a central computational thinking practice by putting engineering into high school computer science (CS) classrooms. Unlike traditional approaches that teach debugging strategies, the goal of this project is to investigate a new instructional approach called "debugging by design" where the researchers turn the tables by having students and teachers themselves design debugging activities and materials supported by debugging tools. The hypothesis of the approach is that debugging by design will strengthen teachers' and students' learning of computational and engineering thinking while fostering a growth mindset around computational competencies. Electronic textile construction kits include sewable microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators combining computing, crafting, and engineering thus spanning both the physical and the computational. This particular hybrid medium is ideal for a study on the pedagogical value of debugging in fostering computational thinking in engineering. Bugs can exist in either or both of the media at the same time. Debugging such multi-faceted systems lends itself not only to the practice of computational thinking and programming as a technical skill, but it is also invaluable as a developmental skill leading to a growth mindset and the concept of "productive failure". The project is funded by the STEM+Computing program, which seeks to address emerging challenges in computational STEM areas through the applied integration of computational thinking and computing activities within disciplinary STEM teaching and learning in early childhood education through high school (preK-12).
This project includes interconnected research and materials-design components. The instructional materials developed will be integrated into Exploring Computer Science (ECS) classrooms. The research questions that the project aims to answer include how debugging furthers computational thinking, how debugging encourages a growth mindset, how teachers embed project materials into ECS, and what teachers learn from designing debugging activities. Research will be carried out with ECS classrooms in the Los Angeles Unified School District and School District of Philadelphia. Researchers will work with 2 classrooms (35 students each) in each of the first two years and eight classrooms in the third year. Two "Debuggathons" (debugging design activities) will also be conducted in year 2, with both teachers and students jointly participating. The deliverables of the project include (a) debugging tool support that can help teachers and students debug the code and circuit designs in their advanced electronic textiles; (b) designs and implementations of instructional debugging activities that can be created and used by students and their teachers in Exploring Computer Science high school classrooms; and (c) student and teacher data and analysis that provide evidence on how doing and designing debugging activities can further students' computational thinking and foster a growth mindset.