New Article: Computational Thinking and Expository Writing in the Middle School

Ursula Wolz, Meredith Stone, Kim Pearson, Sarah Monisha Pulimood, and Mary Switzer. 2011. Computational Thinking and Expository Writing in the Middle School. Trans. Comput. Educ. 11, 2, Article 9 (July 2011), 22 pages. DOI=10.1145/1993069.1993073


To broaden participation in computing we need to look beyond traditional domains of inquiry and expertise. We present results from a demonstration project in which interactive journalism was used to infuse computational thinking into the standard curriculum and regular classroom experience at a middle school with a diverse population. Outcomes indicate that we were able to develop positive attitudes about computational thinking and programming among students and teachers who did not necessarily view themselves as “math types.” By partnering with language arts, technology and math teachers at Fisher Middle School, Ewing New Jersey, we introduced the isomorphism between the journalistic process and computational thinking to 7th and 8th graders. An intense summer institute, first with the teachers and then with students recruited from the school, immersed them in the “newsroom of the future” where they researched and wrote news stories, shot and edited video, and developed procedural animations in Scratch to support their storylines. An afterschool club sustained the experience. The teachers adapted interactive journalism and Scratch programming to enrich standard language arts curriculum and are infusing computational thinking in classroom experiences throughout the school.

This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Bringing interactive journalism into the middle school: A conversation with Laura Fay

Laura Fay is a Reading teacher at Fisher Middle School in Ewing, New Jersey. For the last three years, she has been an active collaborator in the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers (, a demonstration project at The College of New Jersey funded by the National Science Foundation’s Broadening Participation in Computing Program. (CNS #073973).

The goal of the IJIMS project is to expose students and teachers interactive journalism as a way of raising students’ interest in and awareness of computing careers. In a summer program and after-school club, participants created multimedia story packages, based on original reporting, that included text, video, images and animations created in Scratch, a programming language for novices created at MIT. Fay and her colleagues intend to continue the IJIMS project after its formal conclusion on August 31, 2010. This interview was recorded August 13, 2010 at the Scratch@MIT conference, where Fay and fellow teacher Marcy Havens presented their work along with the project’s Principle Investigator, TCNJ Associate Professor Ursula Wolz, and its external evaluator, Meredith Stone.

Superintendent: IJIMS Strengthened Learning and Professional Development in New Jersey School District

In June, 2009, my colleague Ursula Wolz and I had a chat with outgoing Ewing New Jersey Public Schools Superintendent Raymond Broach about his views on the IJIMS Project. IJIMS or the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers, is collaboration between Ewing township’s middle school and The College of New Jersey that is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Broadening Participation in Computing Project.  Wolz is the Project’s principal investigator; I am a co-PI along with Monisha Pulimood. The other TCNJ members of our team are gender equity specialist Mary Switzer, several TCNJ student research assistants, and a select group of volunteer mentors. Meredith Stone is our external evaluator.

Our hypothesis was that students who don’t think of themselves as “computing types”  can be successfully introduced to computing and programming concepts by learning to do multimedia journalism about their own communities. Our research results more than validate our hypothesis.

In this interview, Dr. Broach lauded the constructivist nature of the IJIMS model – a method of teaching the emphasizes collaboration and discovery, making students participants in creating knowledge, not merely absorbing knowledge. Broach noted that the Fisher teachers and guidance counselor who collaborated with us also received training in multimedia journalism and programming in Scratch. This, he said was a departure from the usual professional development model, because it required the teachers to learn skills that weren’t necessarily part of their training.

By the way, one of the Fisher teachers, Laura Fay, recently presented her experience teaching the Scratch programming language in the 8th grade language arts classroom at a meeting for investigators in the BPC program. You can read the notes from the presentation she and Ursula Wolz gave on the IJIMS project: