Multilevel Computational Modeling

Engaging high school students in computational thinking while developing and testing system models.


Systems thinking and modeling are essential for addressing some of our most challenging scientific and societal problems. Climate change, human health and physiology, managing the growing computational infrastructure in our interconnected world, and the planning and building of cities and communities are all examples of problems that require a systems approach. Computational thinking plays a key role in developing solutions to scientific and engineering problems, in particular ones that involve a system modeling approach.

System models simulations traditionally involve programming and/or the development of mathematical equations to define relationships between variables. While programming may be essential in solving scientific and engineering problems, designing a model or a plan for data analysis involves computational thinking, which should be accessible to all. Having students engage in system modeling provides a powerful platform for using computational thinking, one of the eight key scientific and engineering practices in the Next Generation Science Standards.

We’re collaborating with Michigan State University to research and disseminate technological, curricular, and pedagogical scaffolds needed to support students and teachers in developing computational thinking in the context of system modeling and utilizing a system modeling approach for exploring phenomena across multiple STEM disciplines.

Multilevel Computational Modeling is extending the modeling capabilities of SageModeler to support systems dynamics modeling and add the ability to tag models with characteristic features (e.g., linear vs. branched, with feedback loops, etc.) in order to facilitate class discussions around modeling and computational thinking principles. We’re creating curriculum units in which students have several opportunities to engage in building, testing, sharing, evaluating, and revising models of increasing complexity. We’re also developing teacher materials and a professional learning program that includes a professional learning community around system modeling and computational thinking.

Project research focuses on how students’ modeling practice and computational thinking develops in the context of creating their own system models and how to support teachers in effectively utilizing a system model-based approach to teaching and learning.


Research on student learning and teacher practice is guided by the following questions:

  • How do scientific explanations of phenomena evolve as students engage in computational thinking in the context of system modeling?
  • In what ways can curricular materials and technological tools best scaffold the development of students’ computational thinking and system modeling practice?
  • What pedagogical strategies are effective for scaffolding students in computational thinking through modeling complex systems?


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Blog Posts

Learn more about the Multilevel Computational Modeling project at the Concord Consortium blog.

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View, launch, and assign activities developed by this project at the STEM Resource Finder.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1842035. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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