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ENGAGE: Immersive Game-Based Learning for Middle Grade Computational Fluency

Building upon science standards, emerging computer science curricula and leveraging significant advances in game-based learning, the ENGAGE project will deeply infuse computational thinking into middle school science education. Over the three years of the project, it will directly
 engage at least 30 teachers and 5,000 middle school students.

To investigate how computationally rich middle grades science education can seamlessly integrate science problem solving and computation, the ENGAGE project will pursue the following three thrusts:

  1. Design an innovative curricular strategy and novel game-based learning environment to develop computationally rich science practices in middle school students. Leveraging a prototype immersive game-based learning environment for middle school computational thinking that we have developed, we will design, develop and iteratively refine the ENGAGE curricular strategy for infusing computational thinking into middle school science. Through collaborative game-based learning experiences featuring computational problem solving in the context of core middle school science concepts, students will develop a deep experiential understanding of how to bring computational thinking practices to bear on solving a broad range of challenging science problems.
  2. Investigate how middle school students develop computationally rich science practices in 
middle school science classrooms with the ENGAGE game-based learning environment. With a focus on computational thinking practices in the context of problem solving in the life sciences, 
we will conduct mixed methods studies in science classrooms at middle schools in North Carolina and Florida. We will investigate how game-based learning enables students to develop and to 
apply computational thinking practices to solve complex science problems in the life sciences.
 We will use the findings from these studies to create a comprehensive account of how middle
 school students develop computationally rich science practices.
  3. Develop an evidence-based teacher professional development program that supports teachers in the deep integration of computational thinking into middle grade science. Recognizing that successful implementation of computation-infused science education will require thoughtful, systemic professional development activities for teachers, we will design, develop, iteratively refine and deliver an ENGAGE professional development package and annual summer institutes. ENGAGE professional development will integrate face-to-face and online PD experiences with the goal of enabling science teachers to effectively engage students in computationally rich science practices in classrooms.


Learn More


  • National Science Foundation National Science Foundation
  • Partners

  • Center for Educational Informatics, Department of Computer Science, NCSU Center for Educational Informatics, Department of Computer Science, NCSU
  • Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering, University of Florida Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering, University of Florida
  • Teams

  • STEM Cyberlearning STEM Cyberlearning
  • Selected Resources

    Report – The Development of Computer Science Concepts Inventory for Middle School Students: Preliminary Results

    The CS Concepts Inventory is intended to measure students’ understanding of the four core concepts of CS—variables, conditionals, loops and algorithms— taught at the middle school level. Additionally, we incorporated the concepts of debugging, comprehension and development into the assessment. The assessment was guided by a conceptual framework informed by a Focal Knowledge, Skills and Abilities—FKSAs framework developed by Grover and Basu (2017), the K-12 CS Framework (K–12 Computer Science Framework, 2016) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Standards (CSTA, 2017). The assessment utilizes elements from a block-based programming environment as the context for every question, based on findings that suggest learners, especially novice ones, experience less conceptual and cognitive difficulties using these tools (e.g., Grover, Pea & Cooper, 2015; Robins, Rountree, & Rountree, 2003).

    Project Team

    No Photo Available Dr James C Lester II

    No Photo Available Kristy Boyer

    No Photo Available Dr Bradford Mott

    Dr Eric N Wiebe Dr Eric N Wiebe

    Bita Akram Bita Akram

    Danielle Cadieux Boulden Danielle Cadieux Boulden

    Jennifer K. Houchins Jennifer K. Houchins

    Zarifa Zakaria Zarifa Zakaria