Applied Computational Thinking Through Physical Computing and Flowchart Programming

Location: Room 007AB

Explore and create Preregistration and additional fee required.

Registration code: WH114

Fee: $113 (After May 1, $123)
[Explore and create : Workshop]

Sunday, June 25, 8:30–11:30 am
Location: Room 007AB

Dr. Michael Flynn   Susan Flynn   Brad Harriger   Alka Harriger  
This workshop will focus on programming an industrial controller to support computational thinking development in grades 6-12. This controller has been used by the presenters to implement both an NSF-funded STEM middle school program and a national STEM automation contest to approximately 100 schools nationwide.

Fee: $113 (After May 1, $123)
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: PC
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Nanonavigator 4.4.1 English only version - Free download at

We will bring the software on flash drives for anyone who was unable to get the download before the session.

Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Programming and robotics
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: Students : Empowered learner
Students : Innovative designer
Students : Computational thinker

Digital tote resources

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Purpose: Show attendees how physical computing can increase students' interest in and understanding of computational thinking. The application context will be physical fitness.
1. Educate attendees on how to get started using a freely-downloadable flowcharting tool that can help students develop and hone their critical thinking skills.
2. Show attendees how to test and debug their programs using the built-in simulator.
3. Show attendees how to download their flowchart programs to a microcontroller (to which are wired lights and sensors) and watch the running program on the hardware system.
4. Inform attendees about a free competition for middle/high school students that provides a hardware toolkit at no cost to the students/teachers/school. (The toolkit includes a microcontroller that can run the flowchart programs).
5. Share examples of past, student-developed projects.
Technology intervention: Both the controller and programming tool are available from Phoenix Contact: NanoNavigator (flowchart programming tool), Nanoline controller.
6. Demonstrate the use of periodic (fitness) brain blasts to keep minds active, increase retention, and provide ideas for exergame innovations.
Evidence of success: Some publications based on this work are identified on the NSF abstract listing:


1. (10 minutes) Introduce the tools and provide links for later download
2. (15 minutes) Review basic control blocks and purposes
3. (15 minutes) Define a problem as a group
a. Discuss physical system’s needs
b. Identify inputs, outputs, other data stores
4.  (25 minutes) Talk through logic, writing outline of steps
5. (40 minutes) Create program (see notes from steps 3 & 4)
a. Edit data items
b. Display messages
c. Flowchart logic from step 4
i. Purposely include “bug”
6. (10 minutes) Test flowchart program using simulator
a. Understand how fast the program is being scanned by the processor
b. Watch flow of control via visual color changes in the flowchart
c. Watch data items change values during program execution
d. Discuss bug fix
7. (10 minutes) Repeat from step 3 as needed until program works as planned
8. (5 minutes) Download program to controller
9. (5 minutes) Run program on controller
10. (35 minutes) Discuss program enhancement options
a. Repeat from step 3
11. (5 minutes) Discuss consequences when programmers or builders (of physical system) make changes without informing the other
a. Change program vs rewire physical system
12. (5 minutes) Discuss opportunities to get more education and/or technology
a. NSF project
b. Nanoline contest
(Brief fitness activity examples will be interspersed as needed in the above.)

Supporting research

Flowcharts allow for high-level views of abstraction and help to organize logical thoughts (Pientka, B. (2013, March). Computational Thinking: What is the science in computer science? Women in Science Day, Dawson College. Montreal, Canada. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from

Physical computing provides opportunities for tangible and creative learning (Przybylla, M., & Romeike, R. (2014). Physical Computing in Computer Science Education. Proceedings
of the 9th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education (pp. 136-137). Berlin,
Germany: ACM. doi:10.1145/2670757.2670782)

TECHFIT testimonials and program evaluations reveal that using a team-based, multidisciplinary approach to teach CT within a fun and socially relevant context increases youth interest in computing and engineering (Harriger, A. R. (2016, March 7). TECHFIT Testimonials. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from TECHFIT:; Li, W. (2016). TECHFIT Project: Summary of Student Evaluation Findings.West Lafayette, IN: Purdue Discovery Learning Research Center.)

Fitness activities support physically active learning (Merritt, G. E. (2011, May 11). 'Physically Active Learning' In Class Improves Test Scores, Sharpens Concentration. Retrieved March 27, 2016, from



Dr. Michael Flynn, College of Charleston

Michael G Flynn is a professor of exercise physiology at the College of Charleston. He recently completed his 30th year of teaching and research.

Susan Flynn, College of Charleston

Flynn works in the School of Education, Health and Human Performance at The College of Charleston training students’ in early childhood and elementary teacher education. Prior to The College of Charleston, Flynn taught at Purdue University in Indiana for twelve years in Kinesiology. Flynn taught in the public schools in Ohio and Maryland. Flynn’s and Harriger’s received multiple NSF grants to fund the TECHFIT (Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists) projects, with the focus on inspiring the next generation of innovators. Follow @fit2Bsmart; VOXER (fit2Bsmart); Instagram @fit2bsmart_;

Brad Harriger, Purdue University

Brad Harriger has over 30 years of experience teaching automated manufacturing and has authored/co-authored several related articles. He has served in several leadership roles with Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Education and an international Aerospace Automation Consortium. Professor Harriger has invested over 25 years in the development and maintenance of a multimillion dollar manufacturing laboratory facility complete with a full scale, fully integrated manufacturing system. Additionally, he is a Co-Investigator on the NSF funded TECHFIT project coordinating and developing the technology and engineering aspects of the program.

Alka Harriger, Purdue University

Alka Harriger has taught software development in Purdue’s Department of Computer and Information Technology for 30+ years. She has co-authored college-level textbooks and numerous journal/conference articles. She has led three NSF projects, Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists (TECHFIT), Curriculum and Assessment Design to Study the Development of Motivation and Computational Thinking for Middle School Students across Three Learning Contexts, and Surprising Possibilities Imagined and Realized through Information Technology (SPIRIT). All 3 projects worked with teachers/counselors and students to increase student interest, especially female and/or minority students, in pursuing computing/technical careers.

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San Antonio

June 25-28, 2017

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