PSU joint project brings computer science to underserved Oregon high school students

A program spearheaded by Portland State to teach computer science to all high school students – especially populations underrepresented in computer science such as women, rural students and minorities – is completing its first semester in 16 school districts throughout Oregon. 

The program’s curriculum, titled Exploring Computer Science (ECS), introduces programming and other skills to students who might never have educational access to the world of computer science. Parkrose High School in Portland is one of the early participants, and as a result, students there can now substitute ECS for one of their science requirements for graduation.

The program is made possible by CS (Computer Science) for Oregon, which is funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support a team of Oregon educators led by PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science. It helps fill a gap in the teaching of a discipline usually reserved for students perceived as high achieving in relatively affluent high schools.

“Computer science is now essential knowledge to participate fully in society, and yet participation in advanced placement CS shows CS is the most segregated discipline by race and gender of all AP subjects in Oregon,” said James Hook, the college’s associate dean and CS for Oregon’s principal investigator.  “We have been teaching computer science in high school in Oregon for over 50 years, but more through the lens of enrichment for some, rather than essential knowledge for all.”

ECS was designed by University of Oregon professor, and CS for Oregon co-investigator Joanna Goode, to disrupt the patterns of privilege she observed as a classroom teacher in Los Angeles. It was designed to engage students who are not widely represented in computer science classes, including women, low-income, rural, and students of color.

Over the summer, CS for Oregon trained the first round of 22 high school teachers from 16 schools. Each teacher will do quarterly online trainings, as well as a second summer of professional development, ensuring they have the support they need. The program will expand the number of participating schools in 2019, and more teachers are being recruited.

CS for Oregon is a joint project between PSU, the University of Oregon and, recently, Oregon State University- Cascades campus.