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The Intersection of Literacy and Digital Literacy: Incorporating Writing Standards with Computer Technology Standards

Grace McPherson

Departmental Honors ThesisThe University of Tennessee at ChattanoogaComputer Science

Examination Date: 10/31/19

Dr. Claire L. McCulloughProfessor of Computer Science and Engineering Thesis Director

Dr. Joseph D. Dumas IIUC Foundation Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering

Department Examiner

Dr. Jennifer T. EllisSTEM DirectorDepartment Examiner

ContentsAbstract2Introduction2Research Question2Related Work3Methodology3Survey3Selection4The Project5Development of the Curriculum6Lesson Plans7Conclusion8Future Work8References10Appendix A12Appendix B17Lesson One17Engagement18Exploration19Explanation20Elaboration21Evaluations21Lesson Two24Engagement25Exploration26Explanation27Evaluations28Elaboration32Lesson Three34Engagement35Exploration35Explanation37Evaluations37Elaboration38


This project aims to increase access to computer science/computer technology education by providing teachers resources to enable them to teach computer science/computer technology. A survey was taken to discover the interests and needs of teachers in Hamilton County, Tennessee. The project resulted in the creation of several lesson plans that integrate English and computer science through hands-on web development exercises, computational thinking opportunities, and critical thinking.


There is a lot of pressure on schools and parents to fully prepare children for their futures. Not only does society expect students to be well grounded in foundational skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, but they also hope students will hone technical skills and explore career-specific knowledge before graduation. This hope for technically trained individuals is visible in the rapidly growing workforce demand for computing professionals. From 2014-2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an increase of 12.5 percent, which is almost double the predicted growth for employment overall during that time [17].

Unfortunately, many schools do not have the capacity, the teachers, or the budget to provide any form of computer technology class. In the state of Tennessee, only half of the schools provide opportunities to learn computer skills and concepts [3]. Of the schools unable to provide computer technology classes in Tennessee, 69% of them say that most of their time is devoted to courses that are related to testing requirements [3].

Research Question

The primary question guiding our research was: what resources could be created to help non-computer technology teachers teach computer technology? The goal is to understand what resources teachers need to help increase access to computer technology / computer science education.

Related Work

Attempts at interdisciplinary computer science classes have been executed at schools and universities. For example, Union College added various themes to their introductory classes to illustrate the versatility of computer science [18]. Other university projects extended beyond the computer science curriculum. At the UC Berkeley School of Information, they included data science principles in a social studies class to bolster inquiry-based learning exercises [13]. Similarly, the University of Georgia integrated technical skills and data science principles into one of their journalism classes [1]. Another project brought the technology to a senior-level literature class on Gothic Novels [6]. Research has also been conducted on the viability of introducing interdisciplinary computer science classes into K-12 schools. In 2014, a group of academics from North Carolina State University and Meredith College piloted a Big Data program for middle schoolers. During the creation of their curriculum, they found parallels between principles in computer science and common core standards in mathematics [10].



A 19-question survey was created through a partnership with the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE) to explore teachers interest in Computer Science Education. HCDE sent the survey to all K-12 teachers in Hamilton Countys public-school system. The survey was answered by 578 teachers in the Hamilton County district. Teachers were surveyed from all grade levels (K-12th) and from the fundamental subjects. Those that taught multiple subjects were removed from our analysis resulting in a total of 348 unique inputs (see Table 1).

Elementary School

Middle School

High School







Social Sciences




















STEM Technology










Table 1. Respondents were filtered according to subject. Teachers who taught all the subjects were removed from the set to prevent double counting.

The survey included demographic questions, questions about teaching experience, and questions about interest in Computer Science and Computational Thinking. Teachers were also asked to rate their comfort with technology on a Likert scale from 1 being strongly disagree to 5 being strongly agree. These questions were inspired from previous nationwide surveys [11] to establish our baseline of Chattanooga. On a 3-option scale (weak, adequate, strong), most teachers rated their ability to utilize technology in the classroom as adequate (average 46%) or strong (average 37%). The only aspects of technology teachers admitting having more trouble with were Troubleshooting problems that occur when using technology (30.9% weak) and Integrating computer science and/or computational thinking into your curriculum (44.14% weak).

Our survey also used some questions from a survey done by Gallup and Google, specifically questions from their Learning Computer Science section [4]. In the Gallup-Google survey teachers tended to agree with this statement: It is a good idea to try to incorporate computer science education into other subjects at school (35% completely agree and 31% agree); results in our Hamilton County website received slightly higher scores (46.9% completely agree and 36.6% agree). There was a surprisingly large gap in the answers of some questions. For example, when asked to rate their agreement with the statement, Most students should be required to take a computer science course only 56% of teachers in the Gallup-Google survey selected completely agree or agree, while 81% of Hamilton County teachers said they agreed (31%) or completely agreed (50%).

See Appendix A for the full survey.


The primary criteria for project selection was an interest in interdisciplinary curriculum. Respondents were asked to rate their agreement with this statement: It is a good idea to try to incorporate computer science education into other subjects at school. STEM technology, which included teachers that taught computer technology, computer science, engineering labs, and career training, had the highest positive rating (Mean: 4.44, Mdn: 5, Mode: 5). Obviously, these classes will not be improved by incorporating computer technology standards. The group with the second highest positive ratings were English teachers (Mean: 4.2, Mdn: 4, Mode: 5).

Figure 1. English teachers support the integration of computer science in general education curriculum more than any other group, except STEM Technology, where further technology integration would not have an impact.

Figure 2. Middle school teachers showed a high average score for learning computer science

Among English teachers, middle school teachers had the highest interest in learning and teaching computer science. Middle school English Language Arts standards share goals and simply differ in complexity as the students progress. In the state of Tennessee, 7th graders are typically between the ages of 12-14 [9], which is when many popular websites such as Gmail, YouTube, and SnapChat allow young users to start making accounts [5, 14]. This is likely due to regulations such as the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). When American children turn 13, they are no longer protected by the COPPA, meaning that websites no longer need to obtain consent from their guardian when collecting or using personally identifiable information [19]. From a logistics standpoint, it is much easier for websites to only allow users that are not covered in COPPA rather than create the infrastructure to ensure that the data is not collected or used by their site or any related third parties for young users. Thus, this project will be focusing on 7th grade standards, since children are starting to get more access to the Internet.

The Project

In the survey, teachers were asked to rank the resources they most needed. Middle school, English teachers most frequently requested lesson ideas that support state standards (30 of 41). Other top requests from English teachers included instruction, time to prepare and computers. The scope of this project will be focused on providing lesson plan ideas that support 7th grade, English standards in the state of Tennessee. These other needs will serve as a basis for the environment these lessons will be used in. Whenever possible, these lessons will try to not be a strain in those additional 3 areas by providing comprehensive instructions and including activities in which students can share devices.

Development of the Curriculum

These lessons are crafted with Tennessee classrooms in mind, but the lessons will also include national standards to ensure generalizability. The computer technology standards in Tennessee have a strong focus on digital literacy and gaining confidence with common tools [16]. There is not a nationwide standard for computer technology or computer science yet, but these lessons will be using the International Society of Technology Educations (ISTE) computer science standards to help make these lessons accessible to educators outside of Tennessee. There are seven standards listed by ISTE compared to Tennessee state standards which list six computer technology standards [7, 16].

Tennessee State Standards in Computer Technology [16]

ISTE Standards in Computer Technology


Students will understand basic operations and concepts of technology.

Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.

Students will understand the importance of social, ethical, and human issues associated with technology.

Students recognize the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.

Students will use technology productivity tools

Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.

Students will use technology communications tools.

Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.

Students will select and use appropriate technology research tools.

Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

Students will utilize technology problem-solving and decision-making tools.

Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.

Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.

Writing standards are sorted into four primary categories: Text Types and Protocol, Production and Distribution, Research to Build and Present Knowledge, and Range of Writing [2, 15]. According to the Tennessee state standards, these four areas enhance student writing and equip them to participate in civic life and the global economy [15]

Common Core writing standards and Tennessee writing are sorted into the same four categories but do vary slightly; in this project, the standards achieved by each lesson includes the standard labels from both Common Core and Tennessee standards to ensure further generalizability.

Both English writing standards and computer technology standards focus on students applying specific skills to create tangible end results which makes it an intuitive place to start an interdisciplinary pedagogy.

Lesson Plans

To pilot the idea of combining English and computer technology in classrooms three lesson plans were created. Each lesson includes at least one standard from English Language Arts and one from computer technology. The lesson plans follow the 5E format which is a research-backed method of structuring classes that supports inquiry-based instruction [12]. Inquiry-based instruction is a technique that incorporates students questions. Problems are set up at the beginning of a lesson and students must push through the obstacles by questioning it and their previous assumptions [8].

Each part of the 5E lesson format works towards the same learning goals but varies the type of tasks used to move the students forward. Rather than listening to a lecture the whole time, students are encouraged to challenge the information they are given or already possess in the engage phase and interact with one another as well as new techniques and ideas in the explore phase. Once students understand the value of the information, they enter the explain phase where the teacher provides instruction that supports what the students have just realized in the engage and explore phase [12]. In the elaborate phase, teachers can introduce complimentary concepts or build on the original subject. Lastly in the Evaluate phase teachers can check that students understand the how and why of the topic.

The first lesson teaches the idea of Boolean logic in conjunction with finding credible sources online. Most search engines, such as Google and Duck Duck Go, include the feature of narrowing or broadening a search using AND and OR, respectively. This is an instance where English and computer technology seamlessly flow into each other. The standards supported in this lesson come from the "Research to Build and Present Knowledge category in writing and Select and use appropriate technology research tools standard in computer technology.

The second lesson introduces web languages as a digital method of accomplishing the Production and Distribution...


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