Newswise — Dr. Brian Zoellner, a University of North Florida associate professor in the Department of Foundations and Secondary Education within the College of Education and Human Services, and Dr. William Klostermeyer, a professor in the School of Computing and interim dean of the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, were just awarded a grant totaling over $291,000 from the National Science Foundation to help better prepare local high school educators in teaching computer science.

“This grant represents a synergistic collaboration between the UNF colleges of Education and Human Services as well as Computing, Engineering and Construction with the Duval County Public School District,” said Dr. Simon Rhodes, UNF provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “The project will improve the readiness of secondary educators to teach computer science to high school students. We’re proud of research-based activities like this that have such a positive impact on our community.”

With the NSF grant, UNF will implement Teachers Enhancing Computational Thinking (TECt): Preparing Northeast Florida’s Secondary Teachers to Foster Computational Thinking in Computer Science, a program designed to build on current collaborative initiatives to prepare 30 teachers to teach computer science courses through professional development and coursework leading to state certification in computer science.

TECt will engage multiple partners from the University, Duval County public schools and the Northeast Florida STEM2 Hub, along with computer science teachers as well as experts in education, computer science and business in addressing the gap in the availability and access to computer science courses.

“Our major goal is to support area computer science teachers as they work to deliver high-quality curriculum in their schools across the county. This program is unique and will help us understand how to better design professional development for STEM teachers,” said Zoellner, principal grant investigator and a Westside resident.

Although a state certification exists for K-12 computer science instructors, no local colleges or universities offer teacher certification programs. As a result, few teachers can become fully prepared educators in this area and few students are exposed to meaningful computer science instruction.

TECt will change that, using a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) Ecosystems framework within a Research-Practitioner Partnership (RPP) to prepare and support these teachers in teaching rigorous computer science courses. The RPP will define the problems of practice, address equity throughout the partnership and implement research to determine the effectiveness of the TECt structure in preparing high school computer science teachers.

Klostermeyer, the grant co-principal investigator and a Ponte Vedra Beach resident, will be preparing coursework, teaching the first of the classes to area computer science high school teachers. He taught a pilot course last spring to about 15 DCPS teachers and has been working with the teachers and Duval County for about two years.

In Zoellner’s current role at UNF, he teaches secondary science methods and foundations courses, supervises University student-teaching interns and oversees the science education curriculum. His research interests include the use of technology to enhance educator professional development, STEM curriculum development and implementation as well as state/federal education policy related to teachers and their practice. 

He has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction with a focus on secondary science education and educational policy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also earned his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in curriculum/instruction and secondary science education respectively.

Zoellner has had several honors and awards, including UNF Top Performer, Tashia Morgridge Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship, Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award finalist for two consecutive years and a nominee for the UNF College of Education Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Klostermeyer has a doctorate as well as a master’s degree in computer and information sciences from the University of Florida, with research interests in graph theory and algorithms. He has been awarded the UNF Outstanding Faculty Scholarship Award and has been a runner-up for the UNF Distinguished Professor Award for three years.

UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.