MSU scholars aim to improve computer science in Michigan

November 8, 2017

A team of scholars from the Michigan State University College of Education will develop new methods to enhance computer science education in schools.

The collaboration, called CT4EDU, is funded by a nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The CT4EDU team will work directly with a Michigan school district to implement curriculum changes, focusing on minority and/or economically disadvantaged students to encourage their learning of the growing computer science field.

“It is important students not only use computers, but also engage them in computer science ideas and practices to help them understand how computing influences our world,” said Associate Professor Aman Yadav, who is leading the project. Yadav is the director of the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program.

The project will serve as a commitment to Computer Science for All (CSforAll), a nationwide, community-based initiative aimed at empowering educators and learners to engage and think critically with computational thinking skills. Yadav has been a core component of MSU’s efforts, making pledges on behalf of the college to enact changes that will impact curriculum and professional development at the university—and now directly in schools.

As our world is being continually shaped by technology, it is important for students to engage in computing ideas and practices so they can use those ideas and tools to solve complex problems, Yadav said.

Yadav made the 2017 MSU commitment at the CSforAll Consortium in October, joining more than 170 other organizations in promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and computer science education.

Collaboration and education

Aman Yadav

Aman Yadav

Yadav is working with Professor Emily Bouck (with expertise in special education), Associate Professor Christina Schwarz (science) and Assistant Professor Niral Shah (math) to help make the goals of the three-year project a reality.

They’ve partnered with the Oakland Intermediate School District, to implement computational thinking in elementary mathematics and science, which will include curriculum and professional development modifications. Oakland ISD serves 28 public school districts in addition to the county’s charter schools and non-public schools.

“We will work with teachers to co-design computational thinking activities and lessons to help students understand computational thinking concepts, such as algorithms and abstraction,” Yadav said. “This will allow students to understand computer science principles and expose them to practices that computer scientists engage in.”

In the first year of the project, the curriculum will be developed and modified based on what Yadav and the team learn from the schools on how computational thinking can be embedded into practice. Beginning in the summer of 2018, they will implement a professional development pilot for teachers to help them bring the new curriculum into the classroom. Additional teachers will join in 2019.

By 2020, they aim to have worked with 50 elementary school teachers to embed computational thinking in grades 3-5—ultimately benefiting more than 1,250 students.

“We want these students to be not just consumers of technology,” Yadav added, “but ultimately use the power of computing to create technological artifacts. That’s the shift.”

Throughout the project, Yadav will be updating the project’s website on the status of the project, and materials that other teachers can utilize in their own classrooms.

Redesigning education

MSU was part of the inaugural CSforAll effort announced by the White House in 2016. Yadav made a commitment to redesign the Introduction to Educational Technology course. He pledged the revision to focus on computational thinking to better prepare preservice teachers to embed those practices and concepts in their classrooms. More than a year later, computational thinking is now a key component of the class.

In addition, Yadav is currently working to launch a graduate certificate in K-12 computer science education in Fall 2018, to be offered in the college through the MAET program.

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