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ketelhut.jpegDr. Diane Jass Ketelhut

Professor, Univerisity of Maryland College Park Education Department

Some projects of note:

  • The Bessie Coleman Project - Using Computer Modeling and Flight Simulation to Create STEM Pathways.
  • Exploring the Integration of Computational Thinking into Preservice Elementary Science Teacher Education

Diane didn't choose to connect with computer science because her first experiences with computers were positive! When her university classes required students to write computer programs as part of their science labs it was tedious and slow work that made the process of completing and writing up labs much longer and did nothing to endear her to computing.

But really, Diane was on a path all of her life to join science, education, computer science, and outreach for equity of access into meaningful research and projects. She's always been driven by curiosity and a desire to understand how things work. As a small child, when left alone for a few minutes, she disassembled the lower hinges on a door, without any tools, to satisfy her curiosity. (It's a good thing she couldn't reach higher than the doorknob!)

As a teen, Diane developed a passion for providing access to science for those who don't grow up with opportunities. Her father has a Ph.D. in science, and she grew up surrounded by science. As she got older she saw how unique that was, and how important it can be to provide that opportunity to others. 

Computers are a natural extension of an interest in gadgets. After college, as a mother at home with small children, having a computer in the house was an exciting window into a new world. There was no fear of breaking anything since it didn't come with any instructions and the only way to learn was to experiment. If you don't know what is right, nothing is wrong! New games like Flight Simulator were conquered with persistence and repeated rounds of flying and crashing. With a subscription to an early version of the Internet, she discovered a fascinating and amazing source of knowledge and communication. There were book clubs and advice from people about schools and neighborhoods in the Internet community who had a strong sense of ethics to share honestly with each other in those early days of wonder.

Curiosity drove her to take a Pascal programming class at U Va. For her final project, she solved a problem that had been causing frustration for the neighborhood Bridge league. The problem was this: You can have no more than 6 couples per house in any of 4 houses to play matches each week. With over 20 couples in the league, there had to be a way to distribute the teams to maximize interactions between people and change up the groups. She spent hours turning the problem into a working computer program and it worked perfectly! 

Diane sees value in integrating computer science into problem-solving. If you have a problem that is too hard to solve alone, try to resolve it and if that fails, bring in a computer as part of the solution. There are many parallels with the inquiry process in science. It is beneficial to let kids explore their own ideas and create their own ways to prove something right or wrong.

Her first experience of teaching computer science and sharing her delight in computers was when, as a high school teacher, she offered a course for seniors who had failed science in the late '90s. She applied for, and received, a free box from Intel filled with hands-on learning, lessons, and supplies. The whole class was project-based. She brought in floppy disks for the class to dissect. and discussed movies of the future like Tron for a truly enjoyable and engaging experience. According to Dr. Ketelhut, the best thing about teaching is to be able to create opportunities to solve the problems that students are interested in. She has had the opportunity to teach in private, magnet, and inner-city schools to gain a true understanding of the many challenges facing educators and students.

Diane's early research as a graduate student was on educational game. Her work there led Dr. Randy McGinnis to invite her to be one of the leads on an NSF grant on integrating computational thinking into elementary science. It took some time to get a clear vision of what computational thinking is and isn't, and even longer to find ways to support classroom teachers to use it effectively.

In the grant project to incorporate CT into elementary science methods courses, she ended up working with mentors and preservice students in teams together which resulted in a very effective project. She is currently trying to help teachers learn how to integrate computational thinking into elementary science using culturally responsive teaching practices, and there is so much more about computer science and computational thinking that can be embededd into methods courses. She recommends that people don't think of it as a standalone module. Science is computational now, and everything we do includes modeling, simulating, problem-solving, and using computers. CS IS part of science and needs to be integrated throughout.

Photo from wikimedia

 

Dianne O'Grady-Cunniff, dogrady at usmd dot edu
Director, Maryland Center for Computing Education

Dr. Megean Garvin, mgarvin at usmd dot edu
Director of Research, Maryland Center for Computing Education

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Maryland Center for Computing Education
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MCCE received initial support from the National Science Foundation, (MSP)2 Grant No. 0831970.