With special thanks to the National Science Foundation, particularly award 1132227, we were able to work with a middle school history teacher who observed the difficulty his students had working with original documents.
We utilized Participatory Design methods to work with the teacher to design a project that pin-pointed and high-lighted impediments to students making appropriate abstractions. Most basically, students were challenged by the need to understand exactly which things in the documents constituted evidence for claims.
In our first iteration of what has come to be know as Argu-Ably, a joint team of undergraduate and graduate Virginia Tech students (including Panagiotis Apostolellis) and this teacher developed a sort of game wherein students would identify the documents that supported their assigned “side” in an argument. Being able to make a simple categorization of relatively simple documents is a starting point. The students then were asked to take notes on the document. If they could not use the notes to formulate a write-up, they had to go back to the initial document and improve their notes.
Next steps involve tackling more complex documents that may contain more than one argument, or that may even contradict themselves. Our next iteration (currently in development) aims to provide a tool in which students can read and highlight the source texts and then easily cite them inline in the arguments they compose. Although these tools are similar to DBQ (document-based question) support tools, they differ in the principled division of tasks that emphasizes the emergent identification of abstraction, an important pre-requisite of computational thinking.