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Students, teachers, and school districts benefit from computer science professional development

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Sixteen teachers from across the state participated in a Mobile Computer Science Principles professional development course at Trinity College this summer.

Sixteen teachers from across the state gave up the majority of their summer to learn something new to enhance their teaching skills for themselves and for their students. They participated in a six-week class to better understand mobile computer science principles and build apps.

The teachers participated in the Summer Mobile Computer Science Principles professional development course at Trinity College in Hartford.

The program, funded by the National Science Foundation and sponsored by the Connecticut Computer Science Teachers Association (CT CSTA), improves the computer science skills of teachers, who then deliver their expertise, experiences, and skills to students throughout Connecticut’s school districts.

“With the growing importance of computing in society, there is a huge need for students to understand the fundamentals of computer science and for teachers to have the continued professional development and resources needed to teach in this constantly changing field,” said Chinma Uche, president of CT CSTA.

Uche says the highest paying jobs are going to students with computer skills, and the nation needs to invest in technology education.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be more than nine million jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by the year 2020. Half of those jobs, will be in computing with an average annual salary of $76,000.
Learning new skills
Bridgeport teacher Laura Grover said the professional development program was “awesome.” She especially liked that it was taught by a college professor who worked with the teachers on developing each lesson plan.

“It gave us a well-rounded view of computer science and how things work, why they work, and how to make them work. We will bring that all back to our students and help them learn.”

The teachers spent 40 hours per week in classrooms learning to build socially useful mobile apps and increased their computer skills—learning everything from coding to sorting. In its second year, the program instructs educators to teach lessons on building mobile apps by using computer science principles.

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Manchester teachers Matthew Meisterling and Chase Solarz displayed the app they created called “MHS, Go Quiz Yourself!”

Manchester High School teachers Matthew Meisterling and Chase Solarz built an app called “MHS, Go Quiz Yourself!” designed to help students understand their school culture by taking fun daily quizzes that improve their knowledge of teachers, school history, and more.

Computer science principles encompass a wide range of skills including emphasis on writing, collaboration, and creativity. The teachers say working with computers is fun for students, and it can help students excel in other areas.

“Building apps and computer games all require math, physics, and writing skills, so if we get students involved and interested in computer science, they will pay more attention and do well in their other classes—because they will realize they need the skills,” said Solarz.

Meisterling added, “We can use the fun and games to get the students motivated and engaged in the project. Then they learn without realizing it.”

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Westbrook teacher Susan McManus (left), and Bridgeport teacher Laura Grover (right), created an app designed to keep parents and students informed about school activities.

Grover and Westbrook teacher Susan McManus created the “My School” app, designed to keep both parents and students informed about school activities, programs and events.

“It’s a fun way to get students’ attention,” said McManus, “while teaching them a wide-variety of skills.”

“There’s hands-on teaching, problem solving skills, teamwork, and math and logic components that all help the students get a well-rounded experience,” said Grover.

Across the country, too few students have the opportunity to take engaging and rigorous computer science classes, and there is little diversity among those who do. Rachel Martinich, a teacher at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, said this program can help change that.

“We can use what we’ve learned to teach students about programing and coding and show them that they are accessible to everyone. We need to debunk the stereotype that the computer science field is only for white males. Our training and new skills will help us get more girls and minorities interested in computers.”

Solarz agreed, “Computer science and technology are the future of our society, and we are all becoming increasingly more dependent upon them. So either we understand them and become part of our new world, or just be a user and not understand. Our training can help us teach our students to embrace it.”

Continued support
The teachers know they are not alone in implementing the curriculum and new concepts. Experts from the program will provide support to the teachers on a weekly basis, and they will also have access to online resources and each other.

“Knowing we are not left out there alone and there is continued assistance really are key to the success of this program,” said McManus.
The districts where the teachers work will receive funding for new technology. The program provides phones or tablets to all of the teachers’ schools—one device for every two students in the computer science app building class.

The teachers also received a $6,000 stipend for participating in the program and will travel to conferences as presenters to help teach and train other teachers throughout Connecticut.

And there’s more. Next year, the teachers who participated in the program can recommend students who can apply for a City of Hartford app internship. The six-week course allows students to work directly with organizations in Hartford designing apps. The students are exposed to real-world applications in a professional atmosphere, and the internship prepares them for the future.

The National Science Foundation will fund the Mobile Computer Science Principles program through 2015, and Uche is hopeful that the State Department of Education or state legislators will see the importance of the program and will take steps to provide additional resources.

National movement
Computer science education gives students a deeper knowledge of the fundamentals of computing, yielding critical thinking skills that will serve students throughout their lives in numerous fields.

There is a movement at the national level to support and strengthen computer science education for teachers and students, as well as to make it a requirement for graduation.
Uche commended the work of Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty in supporting the Computer Science Education Act ensuring computer science offerings are an integral part of the curriculum in public schools across the country. As of August 2014, 110 members of the U.S. Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

Here in Connecticut, Uche has contacted the Connecticut State Department of Education in hopes of improving access to the computer science curriculum and developing new standards in schools across the state, providing more funding for computer science programs and professional development for teachers, and making computer science a requirement for high school graduation in Connecticut.

“We need to bring computer science to all students, not just in Connecticut, but nationwide, because these are the skills needed for high-paying jobs and for everything we do,” she said. “You never know who will create the next app that changes the world.”

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