September 21, 2016

Purdue faculty receive $2.5 million NSF grant for STEM project

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A National Science Foundation grant will fund Purdue University research into computational thinking by children.

The NSF awarded a $2.5 million grant to principal investigator Alka Harriger, a professor in the Computer and Information Technology Department, for the project, "Curriculum and Assessment Design to Study the Development of Motivation and Computational Thinking for Middle School Students across Three Learning Contexts."

Along with Brad Harriger, a professor in the School of Engineering Technology, the project will build upon on the work of Alka and Brad Harriger, through the "Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists" project. That work also was funded by an NSF grant.

Through the new project, Alka Harriger said the TECHFIT work done in an after-school class will be expanded with the new NSF funds, creating an elective class for the students as well as inserting computational thinking modules into the existing middle school courses for students. Mike and Susan Flynn, former Purdue professors and current professors at the College of Charleston and TECHFIT partners, will provide consulting expertise on the new project.

Alka Harriger said the new project will study the impact of the three overall delivery methods on students' career interests in computing and their understanding of computational thinking. The final goal will be to determine if the three contexts influence teacher delivery and student experiences as well as the ultimate development in computational thinking with the students.

The new project is funded under the NSF STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) + Computing Partnerships program and will last for three years. Loran Parker and Weiling Li, both in the College of Education, are co-investigators on the project team who will study the work's  impact.

An advisory board with representatives from Phoenix Contact, Balluff and the National Center for Women and Information Technology, along with educational experts, will guide the project team.

A total of 165 teachers and around 2,800 students in grades six through eight will be involved. Two schools have agreed to partner on the effort: Lafayette Sunnyside Intermediate School and Winamac Middle School in Winamac. Middle schools that are interested in being considered for the project should email the team at

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, 

Source: Alka Harriger, 765-494-2565,

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