Learner Ideas and Interests Expressed in Open-ended Projects in a Middle School Computer Science Curriculum
Ensuring that computer science curricula connect to learners’ home culture, interests, and lived experiences is one approach to making the field more equitable. A central feature of the [Anonymized Curriculum] is to provide many opportunities for learners to plan and implement open-ended programming projects that invite them to draw on their prior knowledge, experiences, and cultural resources. To date, relatively little research has been done to analyze how learners respond to such curricular invitations, specifically with respect to what aspects of themselves and their interests they choose to express in their resulting projects.
In this work, we investigate what people, places, interests, and experiences learners draw from as they plan and program open-ended Scratch projects. We analyzed the planning documents and final projects of 101 4th-7th grade (9-13 years) learners from the first two modules of our curriculum. The results show that when given the chance, learners incorporate aspects (such as Home and Family, and Hobbies and Leisure) of themselves into open-ended projects. Some learners drew from many areas of their lives while others focused on specific events, people, or interests. Our findings also indicate that the activities and Scratch are conducive to having learners of this age group express themselves, even early in the curriculum when they are still learning basic Scratch and CS concepts. This work contributes to our understanding of the impact of culturally responsive curricula and how it shapes the way learners engage with and express themselves in computing curricula.