Two major education units at Mississippi State will be working to expand computer science offerings in the state’s public schools with new support from the National Science Foundation.
A recent grant of more than $700,000 was awarded to the university-based Research and Curriculum Unit to advance training and curriculum development for a Mississippi Department of Education initiative known as Computer Science for Mississippi—CS4MS, for short.
Over the next three years, RCU professionals will join with campus colleagues in the College of Education to enhance computer skills of high school teachers working in CS4MS pilot districts.
“Our state has been at the forefront of the national race to bring computer science to classrooms for the past two years,” said the RCU’s Shelly Hollis. “With this grant, we will increase the number of schools that offer computer science courses and the teachers we train.”
Hollis, CS4MS project coordinator at the RCU, said 44 school districts currently are enrolled in the program that was established two years ago.
In addition, she said her organization has been named a regional partner for www.Code.org, a Seattle, Washington, non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities nationally.
RCU project manager Lois Kappler, the grant’s principal investigator, said the federal grant is designed to help campus researchers better connect with classroom practitioners.
The researcher-practitioner partnership will involve public school educators and industry professionals who will help the RCU modify CS4MS curricula based on teacher results. “The value of working with industry professionals and educators is that we can build a sustainable professional development model that will support long-term success,” Kappler said.
As Hollis observed, “There’s a need in the field of computer science for a rapid response to teacher feedback. Through collaborative efforts of the team, we will design training to meet the ongoing and evolving needs of the teachers, as well as strive to keep current a curriculum that centers on an industry that changes daily.”
Because many teachers recruited for CS4MS courses already are in school classrooms or are coming from alternate pathways, the grant additionally will support their work toward professional licensure and endorsements in the computer science field.
Donna Shea, co-principal grant investigator with Kappler, directs the College of Education’s clinical and field-based instruction.
She said the NSF’s support to help create new career pathways for teachers simultaneously will ensure K-12 students can have better opportunities to pursue academic and employment futures in computer science.
“We see the importance of and growing interest in exposing children of all ages to computer science; and with that, comes the need for developing a program of study and licensure endorsement in computer science,” said Shea.
The project makes training and curriculum available to teachers in multiple forms, including in person and online, so that participation is less cost prohibitive, translating to more opportunities for Mississippi students to receive computer science instruction and job preparation.
This, in turn, can lead to additional opportunities for students, Hollis said. “If students hold these skills, some of the geographic and socio-economic barriers fall away because jobs are available for them to work from home as long as they have access to a computer and the Internet,” she added.
For more information on CS4MS, visit www.cs4ms.org.
For more information on the RCU, visit www.rcu.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, also available online at www.msstate.edu