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School of Education

Partner4CS workshop participants chart a path for Mars using computational thinking strategies.

Interdisciplinary UD team help teachers broaden participation in computer science

How can we encourage young women and students from under-represented backgrounds to consider careers in computer science (CS), a field still struggling to expand its diversity? Since 2012, University of Delaware’s Partner4CS project has answered this question in part by beginning with the classroom.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the interdisciplinary Partner4CS team in UD’s departments of computer science and education leverages partners throughout Delaware to broaden participation in CS. One component of this project is Partner4CS’s annual Professional Development Summer Workshop, a paid, five-day training session for teachers in grades 4-12 interested in integrating CS into their curricula.

Significantly, this workshop is not only open to current teachers of CS. This June, the Partner4CS team welcomed nearly 50 teachers from a range of disciplines, including science, technology, engineering, and math. Teachers from across the state of Delaware attended, as well as international participants from Saudi Arabia.

The workshop illustrated how key computational thinking lessons on programming, algorithms, data analysis, and creative thinking could be integrated into teachers’ existing lesson plans. Teachers programmed robots, charted the path for a hypothetical launch to Mars, and learned how to use coding tools, like Scratch.

New this year, the workshop placed additional emphasis on integrating equity-focused and culturally responsive practices into teachers’ classrooms. It encouraged teachers to incorporate aspects of their students’ personal and cultural identities into their lesson plans.

For example, two middle school teachers developed an activity in which students create an autobiographical presentation to highlight how their lived experiences and the individuals in their lives have influenced their personal development.

“Computer science is disproportionately filled with white men, which leads women and other under-represented groups to feel excluded or out of place as computer scientists,” said Diane Codding, a doctoral student in the School of Education (SOE) who presented strategies for engaging diverse groups of students. “Our hope is that when the CS teachers are aware of the issue and equipped with strategies for making their curriculum and classrooms more culturally responsive, they will help create a more diverse group of future computer scientists. We all benefit from such diversity.”

“The daily activity on creating a culturally responsive computer science classroom, led by Diane Codding, was a significant addition to our workshop this year,” said Lori Pollock, Alumni Distinguished Professor in the department of computer and information sciences. “After just the first day, teachers were identifying lesson activities that could be improved for cultural responsiveness and sharing slight modifications they were planning to incorporate.”

Advanced placement (AP) CS principles teachers participated in an intensive training on CS educational tools, technologies, curriculum, and pedagogy in preparation for teaching a new CS Principles AP course in their high schools. This course is one of three required to complete a CS pathway in the state of Delaware.   

 “With the new policy changes in our state, all high schools must offer a CS course by 2020,” said Mouza. “Preparing teachers who are able to teach CS courses or integrate CS content in other courses, such as math and science at the middle school level, is critical for raising awareness on the importance and impact of CS in daily life, broadening participation in computing, and offering high quality CS experiences for students.”

The workshop was developed by the Partner4CS team, including Chrystalla Mouza, professor and director of the SOE, as well as Lori Pollock, Terry Harvey, associate professor, and James Atlas, assistant professor, in the department of computer and information sciences.

Delaware teachers who had previously attended the workshop, such as SOE alumna Yanaka Bernal, also helped design and deliver this summer’s professional development.

About Partner4CS

 The Partner4CS project at the University of Delaware was launched in 2012 to support the missions of CS10K and Computer in the Core, two nationwide programs aimed at increasing participation in CS among K-12 teachers and students.

The Partner4CS project specifically works to address goals:

  • provide effective professional development to teachers in grades 6-12 that will improve content and pedagogical content knowledge in teaching CS
  • develop a field experience university course that partners undergraduates with practicing teachers in the field for on-going support
  • establish strong partnerships with school districts, teachers, policy makers and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics leaders at the state level and
  • influence policy changes at the state level in the area of CS.

Visit the Partner4CS website to learn more about its mission and impact.

Article by Jessica Henderson

Photo courtesy of Melina Daniilidis