Concerned about a lack of rural students, students of color and girls signing up for high school computer science classes, the National Science Foundation and professors from three Oregon public universities are training about 30 high school teachers from around the state on how to make computer science courses more accessible.
The five-day CS for Oregon program, which ends Friday at the Oregon State University-Cascades’ campus, emphasized the importance of keeping computer science approachable for all students.
The program was taught by professors from OSU-Cascades, the University of Oregon and Portland State University.
“Computer science has this horrible problem of being mostly white and Asian males,” said Joanna Goode, a professor of education at the University of Oregon who helped lead CS for Oregon. “Given the power and influence computer science has in all of our lives, it’s really important to think about how we bring girls and students of color in.”
According to Jill Hubbard, a computer science professor at OSU-Cascades and a CS for Oregon instructor, the program is funded by a $1 million National Science Foundation grant. The granted funded the program for two summers — this is the second year — along with quarterly online professional development sessions and assistance throughout the school year.
Five teachers in the program came from Central Oregon schools: one teacher each from Bend, Mountain View, Redmond and Crook County high schools, as well as the Tumalo K-12 private school Cascades Academy.
Goode said hosting the event outside of the Portland metro area and inviting teachers from across the state was intentional. Computer science teachers who felt isolated in their smaller schools could now swap ideas and connect with fellow educators.
Taghrid Elmeligui, who said she was the only computer science teacher at McMinnville High School, said she appreciated getting to hear from other educators teaching the same subject.
“Sometimes, you get locked into your own small world,” she said. “Hearing about other (computer science) teachers, what they struggle with and succeed in, is really valuable.”
During the program, educators practiced teaching computer science curriculum on their fellow teachers. Goode said this gives the teachers practice on how to engage an entire class.
Paul Snape, who teaches multiple science and math classes at Cascades Academy, said he appreciated how the teachers-teaching-teachers style gave him a chance to relate to his students.
“You can really put yourself in a student’s shoes and think about how they would accept that information, or if it seems confusing,” he said. “As teachers, that’s something we don’t get to do very often.”
Teachers in the program were encouraged to emphasize to students how computer science skills will be needed in almost every profession in the near future, Hubbard said.
“It’s not just for the people that are going to become computer scientists and engineers,” she said. “While some people will become those, (these are) skills and practices for people who are going to live in a digital age, regardless of what they’re going to do in terms of an occupation.”
Crook County High School teacher Billy Hall, who teaches engineering and manufacturing classes, which utilize computer science skills, said convincing students who aren’t interested in tech to take his computer science class has been a struggle.
“I’ve had students who say ... ‘I won’t take that class, because I’m not a computer person,’” he said. “If I can get it across to them that (these classes) are not for ‘computer people,’ they’re for everybody, it will be a boon for students and my program.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, firstname.lastname@example.org