Can UD’s Lori Pollock Revolutionize Computer-Science Education?

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By Pariss Briggs 

In 2012, the University of Delaware created Partner 4 Computer Science (Partner4CS), a program designed to provide K-12 instructors with the proper skills needed to teach computer development to students. Now in its fifth year, the program is still going strong. Dr. Lori Pollock, an Alumni Distinguished and Computer and Information Sciences professor at the University of Delaware, and a board member of the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research, is one of the people at the head of it all. caught up with Pollock to find out how the program came to be, along with how it has evolved over the years. Delaware: What is Partner4CS?

Lori Pollock: Partner4CS is a program initiated at University of Delaware in 2012 that leverages partners throughout the state of Delaware to address the goals of Computing in the Core (now known as CS for All Teachers and, respectively.) These two nationwide programs are increasing participation in computer science among K-12 teachers and students. The Partner4CS project focuses on:

  1. Offering an annual paid Professional Development Summer Workshop during summer for K-12 teachers interested in integrating computer science into their curricula
  2. Supporting and distributing materials for a college field experiences course (taught at the University of Delaware for since 2013) in which undergraduates assist in teaching computer science in local schools and libraries
  3. Organizing an annual Summit for CS Education in Delaware, beginning in 2017

TD:  Where did the idea for the program come from? How did you become involved?

LP: Partner4CS grew out of some prior outreach that Professor Terry Harveyand I spearheaded years ago, with the goal of getting undergraduate computer science students involved in service learning through partnering with middle-school teachers as clients of learning games that the undergraduates were designing and building. In working with the teachers, we recognized that need to support teachers in integrating computer science into their curriculum.

At about the same time, the National Science Foundation began soliciting for proposals to design programs to help broaden participation in computing at the K-12 levels.  We wrote the first Partner4CS proposal and received our first funding about five years ago to start designing the program.

The UD campus. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The UD campus. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

TD: What is the goal of the program?

LP: The main goals are to increase participation in computer science among K-12 teachers and students, through supporting teachers.

TD: How has the program evolved since it began in 2012?

LP: The program began with designing and offering a one week professional development for high school and middle school teachers who wanted to integrated CS into their courses and curriculum. It evolved to include a regularly offered service learning course called Field Experiences in Teaching Computer Science at University of Delaware, where our undergraduates meet once a week on campus with us to prepare and support their field experiences in leading after school programs and supporting teachers with lessons and lab aid in their classroom teaching.

We also initiated the first Computer Science Teachers Association chapter in the state of Delaware, which is led by teachers meeting once a month regularly. This past spring we held the first Summit for Computer Science Education in the state of the Delaware here on campus.

TD: What are some of the skills teachers learn through the program?

LP: Teachers learn practical classroom activities to teach computational thinking in algorithms, data, abstraction, programming, and internet, as well as participate in training sessions for specific technologies, including beginning and advanced Scratch, Python, and HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, with models of how to teach them to different ages.

TD: How have you seen these skills transfer to classroom?

LP: Our teachers from past workshops have reported using some lessons exactly as they were done in the workshop, as well as adapting others to their own environments.

UD's Lori Pollock. (Courtesy photo)

UD’s Lori Pollock. (Courtesy photo)

TD: How have the grants you’ve received over the years impacted Partner4CS?

LP: The grants are critical to the success of Partner4CS. A large part of the funds go directly to the teachers who are paid a stipend to spend their summer week in professional development. Another large component is for collecting and analyzing data to evaluate the impacts of the various components of the program.

TD: Why do you think it’s important to teach computer science in the classroom?

LP: The more that computer science is integrated into courses and offered to students at various ages, the more access that is provided towards reaching the goals of broadening participation in computing. There is evidence that those who are given the opportunity to participate early are more apt to consider majoring or minoring in computer science or seeking a career that includes computing.