Diversifying Computer Science

To reach kids, coders first train 10k public school teachers

By ED CARPENTER, USF NEWS Posted Mon, 07/25/2016 - 14:54

USF computer scientists have joined the national Computer Science For All movement to train 10,000 public school teachers to teach under-resourced high school students computer programming. It’s an effort supported by President Barack Obama that aims to educate a new generation of computer coders. 

Joining the movement was an easy decision, says Professor David Wolber, who, along with Assistant Professor Alark Joshi, is teaching a four-week course on campus and online to San Francisco high school teachers. 

Half a dozen science, math, and language teachers, along with a couple of support staff — most of whom have never tried programming before — are learning to code using AppInventor.org, a leading site for teaching beginners how to invent smartphone and tablet apps. The teachers will design lessons for their students beginning this fall. 

The course is supported by the National Science Foundation and Google’s Computer Science for High Schools initiative.

Lack of diversity

"This new approach of teaching computer science to non-computer science teachers is a way of reaching underrepresented groups and it's key to 21st century education," says Wolber, founder and director of AppInventor.org and director of Democratize Computing Lab.

USF computer science students and data science students Courtni Wong '17, Anaelia Ovalle '17, Thomas Simpson '17, and Sarah Lopez '18 are part of the effort as well, and will tutor high school students in the classroom when teachers begin the new curriculum this fall.

"The high school teacher training is just one way the Computer Science Department helps open tech industry doors for women and other under-represented groups," Wolber says. “USF has a long history of such programs, including putting on Girl Tech Power app workshops for middle and high school girls each summer.”

Women comprised just 23 percent of the tech industry workforce in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. African Americans and Latinos just 14 percent.

"Diversifying tech is about inclusiveness and fairness, but it will also lead to better software and products to help society," Wolber says.

Key to U.S. economy

Jennie Lyons, a computer science coordinator who's among the district teachers and staff taking the course, says learning to code prepares students for successful careers in an economy that’s projected to add 1.4 million computing jobs by 2020.

"Thanks to USF, we have a phenomenal opportunity to have experts like Dave and Alark train us and answer our questions," Lyons says. "This training is a great opportunity for teachers to form learning communities where they can exchange ideas and get help with the new material when the class is over. That's particularly helpful for computer science teachers who are often the only CS teacher at their school."

Cindy Cheung, an algebra teacher at San Francisco's International School, which serves students who have immigrated to the U.S. in the past three years, is taking the course because she wants to build students' interest in programming so they feel more confident using computers and are more likely to consider computer science and other STEM-related fields as careers.

"I want my students to see themselves as technology creators, not just technology consumers," Cheung says. "I hope they can see that computer science is not just for a certain type of person and that we actually really need people with diverse backgrounds and varied interests for it to continue to grow."

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