Computer Science for All

UMass Amherst researchers to work with 750 elementary teachers in Springfield, Massachusetts Public Schools, thanks to $1.2 million NSF award

The National Science Foundation recently awarded $1,197,134 to a collaborative team, led by University of Massachusetts Amherst professor of computer science Rick Adrion, to integrate computer science into every classroom and reach every student in the Springfield Massachusetts Public elementary schools. The curriculum, called CSforAll, will reach approximately 11,000 Kindergarten through fifth-grade students in the district’s 32 elementary schools.

Adrion, who has been working with public schools and communities in the Commonwealth for more than decade, has put together a team that includes UMass Amherst researchers Rebecca Woodland and Keisha Green, both professors of education, as well as his fellow computer scientist Sneha Veeragoudar. In addition, the team includes teachers and administrators from the Springfield schools as well as consultants from the SageFox Consulting Group, who will help the team better understand how elements of what is known as “computational thinking” can be effectively woven into every subject across the curriculum, from math to English.

“What we’re really focused on,” says Adrion, “is teaching kids to think critically about how computing can solve some of the problems in their coursework and lives. It’s not enough to have plenty of laptops and fast wifi, nor is it enough to know some programing concepts. Students need to understand how computing can help them solve a variety of problems and can serve them in future careers” For example, students in an English class might design and code short animations to accompany the stories they write. The point isn’t to have programming replace writing, but to give students another tool to help them unlock their creativity.

This current grant piggybacks on a previous grant that Adrion and his team received in 2018, which supported teachers in the Springfield schools to design and implement the CSforAll curriculum. This new grant will focus on studying the successes and challenges of diffusing the

CSforAll curriculum, and especially to craft the curriculum so that it can address the highly diverse identities, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds of Springfield’s student populations.

None of this could have happened without the dedication and hard work of Springfield’s teachers, who actively helped design and implement the curriculum from the ground up.

“I am so proud of Springfield teachers who have been central to this project, designing, piloting and refining computer science lessons, building on their own learning to deliver and sustain culturally responsive computer science instruction,” says Paul Foster, chief of Strategy, innovation and accountability for Springfield Public Schools. “While teachers may initially feel intimidated at the idea of teaching computer science, they have quickly risen to the challenge and reported excitement at seeing the engagement and joy in their students developing these new skills. I am excited for increasing numbers of Springfield students to see themselves as computer scientists and computational thinkers.”

“This whole project is about sustainability,” says Adrion. “If the Springfield School District wasn’t committed as they are, it wouldn’t happen.”

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