Google Funding Impacts Rowan Computer Science Education Outreach

Released: 12-Nov-2013 4:20 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Rowan University
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Newswise — GLASSBORO, N.J. -- Anyone who’s been tethered to a computer, gathered details on a history topic or on a politician, evaluated the demographics of his neighborhood or the stats of her kids’ school district, searched for a recipe or a long-lost relative, knows that Google can open doors.

At Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J., Google is doing more than that. The powerhouse Internet firm is helping to open worlds for future generations of technology users via a University program designed to reach out to today’s secondary teachers.

Google’s Education Division Computer Science for High School (CS4HS) program awarded $34,000 to computer science professor Dr. Jennifer Kay to further develop curricula for middle and high school educators that will help them teach their students technology fundamentals. CS4HS promotes computer science and computational thinking in high school and middle school curricula around the world, according to the organization.

“My goal is to teach robot programming to middle and high school teachers, so that they will bring it into their classrooms,” Kay said. “There is a desperate need for more computer science in schools to give students the essential skills they need to succeed in today’s world. I see this as a way to help get both teachers and kids excited about computer science in general and programming in particular as well as to inspire some of those students to see computer science as a future career path.”

Kay is using the Google award to develop a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC), an Internet-based offering that teachers anywhere — indeed anyone, anywhere — can tap into. Rowan, she said, is one of only four schools in the nation presenting such online workshop opportunities this year.

Her newest endeavor is free of charge. The MOOC offers five to 10 lessons a week. Each lesson includes a five- to 10-minute video as well as self-test questions that are graded automatically. Participants also will design and construct a robot themselves and complete a set of five “robot programming projects.”

To earn a certificate of completion, teachers must demonstrate their robot projects to a principal or designee.

The content of the MOOC is not new for Kay. She has used past Google funding to teach onsite courses at Rowan to K-12 educators to help them help their students master the skills they will need in the classroom and the work world. “It’s going . . . to do what I did in my local workshops, but on a huge scale,” Kay said.

Kay, who said there are not the same type of K-12 common core standards for computer science as there are for math and language arts, first started hosting workshops for teachers during academic year 2011-12. Each three-day workshop included 20 to 25 educators from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

During those workshops, Kay taught teachers how to program LEGO® robots with the intention of enabling them to integrate the use of robots in their regular classes or as the basis for an after-school robotics club.

Kay is pragmatic about the onsite and MOOC programs and their trickle-down effect on today’s K-12 students. Not everyone, she knows, will become a computer science major in college or work in the technology realm. But, she firmly believes, everyone needs to master the basics of computer technology. “All of these kids, whether or not they become computer science majors, whether or not they have an interest in computer science … their whole lives are going to be spent using computers and interacting with people who use computers. It’s really important that they have a fundamental knowledge of the field,” she said. “My standard catchphrase is, ‘If somebody says to you the computer can’t do that, I want you to at least have the confidence to ask why not?’”

She wants to see students develop basic computer science skills so that they understand topics such as what an app is and how computers work. She also said it is crucial they learn computational thinking skills. “Computational thinking skills are important in everyday life. When you study computational thinking, you learn things like how to think logically, how to begin with the big picture and break it into smaller parts or how to find different solutions for the same problem and compare them,” she said.

In reality, students are not getting this in most schools, Kay explained. They may take computer classes and they may learn how to use tools such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, but they are not learning computational thinking. But Kay and Google are working to change that by bringing computer science and computational thinking to secondary education. More than 1,000 people from around the globe already preregistered for her MOOC. The course starts on Nov. 15, 2013, and is free and open to both teachers and non-teachers. For more information and to sign up, visit https://cs4hsrobots.appspot.com

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