July 9-12, 2019
UseR! is the main meeting of the R user and developer community. Lectures and talks cover topics from technical to general statistics of various areas of interest, including the use and development of the R programming language and its packages in education and citizen science. The 2019 UseR! conference includes 144 presentations, 82 lightning talks, and 110 posters, plus keynote talks and a plethora of tutorials.
Wednesday, July 10
Mathematical Modeling with R: Embedding Computational Thinking into High School Math Classes in the United States
Developing computational thinking across all disciplines and educational levels has become a priority for scholars and educational institutions worldwide, with an urgent call in the Next Generation Science Standards to integrate computational thinking across K-12 curricula. However, there is a big gap between the number of students leaving high school with some degree of knowledge in computer science (CS) and the increasing number of jobs requiring CS expertise.
Computational thinking and mathematical modeling concepts find direct application in computer science. The CodeR4MATH team is confident that computational thinking and mathematical modeling are intertwined, and both can be better learned when integrated. In this presentation, we introduce the goals and results of the first classroom implementation of the pilot module called Lifehacking, designed to encourage students to use the R programming language to help people make practical decisions, such as choosing college dining options or selecting gas stations to save money. In the pilot module, we invited students to walk through the steps of modeling two challenges, gradually reducing the scaffolding and moving students toward stronger understanding and autonomy. In the first activity, called Meal Plan vs. Pay-As-You-Go, students wear the shoes of a college advisor who has to help as students decide between buying a meal plan or paying for food on a per meal basis. In the second activity, Driving for Gas, we challenged students to build a model that could be used as an app in the future to help drivers decide where to go to fill their car’s tank, based on the driver’s budget, schedule, and personal values.
The process of modeling a real-world situation involves identifying relevant variables that can be used to sketch the problem, describing these variables’ relationships, performing mathematical operations to draw and interpret conclusions and, after validating these conclusions, revisit the initial assumptions and repeat the process (or steps of it) to improve the model. We used R as a mathematical modeling environment and a vehicle to convey main computational thinking practices. Programming concepts and R language features were introduced when the modeling moves called for them.
The module was very well received by teachers and students at the high school level. Eighty-eight percent of students said they now understand mathematical modeling better and 60% said that the activities maintained or increased their interest in pursuing CS-related courses in the future. The results are encouraging and suggest that students greatly benefit from investigating meaningful problems that appeal to their personal interests.