PSU receives $1M National Science Foundation grant to make computer science accessible to all high school students
Author: Kurt Bedell, PSU Media and Public Relations
Posted: December 14, 2017

The lack of diversity in the tech industry has always been of concern to James Hook, a Portland State University engineering associate dean.

Hook and his team of collaborators hope to change that by getting more students to study computer science. Using a $1 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, they plan to bring a proven, inclusive computer science curriculum to high school students of all backgrounds, life experiences and ethnicities across Oregon.

“I have long been concerned that we have failed to attract a broad and diverse set of students to computer science,” said Hook, who joined PSU in 2004. “A working knowledge of computer science is quickly becoming fundamental to being an informed member of society. With this NSF grant, we’ll be equipped to bring every Oregon high schooler a valuable computer science education, including those who have historically been underrepresented in these classes.”

The grant will fund Computer Science for Oregon, a professional development program sponsored by Portland State University, the University of Oregon and Tigard-Tualatin School District. It will train, develop and coach Oregon high school teachers to deliver a proven entry-level computer science curriculum developed by Joanna Goode, a University of Oregon education studies associate professor. 

The Computer Science for Oregon project:

  • Prepares new computer science teachers to focus their coursework on developing high-level problem-solving and computational thinking, not just technology skills. 
  • Provides workshops to teach counselors and administrators strategies that recruit women, people of color and other historically underrepresented minorities to computer science classes. 
  • Develops curriculum for teacher preparation programs at PSU and the University of Oregon that incorporates computer science topics into the education technology courses that brand new teachers take. 
  • Examines what works, for whom and under what conditions to gain broader student participation in computer science education at the school, district, regional and state levels.

Hook and his team believe that historically not all students have had a chance to engage in computer science classes. 

“Today’s world is one in which there are many hidden kinds of privilege,” said Hook. “In some schools, only certain kids are tracked into computer science classes. Most computing work is presented in the context of the dominant culture which leaves out many students. With Computer Science for Oregon, we’ll focus on negating the effects of these kinds of privilege and placing computer science thinking in the context of students’ own cultures.”

Computer Science for Oregon will adopt the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum developed by Goode. Her curriculum has been embraced and adopted by major large urban school districts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. In Los Angeles, where the program has been in use for eight years, participating students show increased motivation to pursue education in computing and are more willing and creative in how they approach higher-level problem-solving activities.

“Prior to using the Exploring Computer Science curriculum, our introductory high school computer science course was geared toward students who already identified as future engineers or software developers,” said Jill Hubbard, a computer science teacher and lead practitioner for the program at Tualatin High School. “ECS provides our students with a rigorous, inclusive computer science curriculum covering a wide variety of computer science concepts and encouraging all students to develop the critical and computational thinking skills necessary for their future careers and lives.”

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