Santa Clara University, in partnership with Santa Clara School Districts, proposes to extend the reach of the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) course developed in Los Angeles into high schools in northern California. ECS was designed to be an engaging introduction to computing that is contextualized to be socially relevant and meaningful for diverse student populations. It covers a variety of topics, including problem solving, programming, Web design, data modeling, human computer interaction, robotics, ethical and social implications, and career opportunities. This project will demonstrate how the course can be replicated throughout California and other states. It will develop a course implementation package that includes alternative curriculum units expressly written for students from different cultures and with different life experiences, and materials that facilitate the successful engagement of administrators, the recruitment of students, the preparation of teachers, and additional course support. This work is part of a much long-term effort to work with local schools and their teachers, as well as organizations such as NCWIT and CTSA, in providing a comprehensive approach to increasing participation in computing in Silicon Valley.

Project Report

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be 1.4 million new jobs in computing created this decade - more than all the new jobs in all other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields combined. Yet only about 400,000 students are expected to earn bachelor's degrees in computing during the same period. That's a shortfall of 1 million jobs. By contrast, in engineering, life sciences, physical sciences and mathematics, the number of college graduates will exceed the number of jobs. In 2009, only 2,193 California students took the advanced placement (AP) course in computer science. More than half of California high school students are Hispanic or Latino, yet they comprise less than 8 percent of those who take the AP exam in computer science. African Americans represent 6.7 percent but are only 1.5 percent of those taking the AP exam. To attract more students to computer science, and in particular a greater diversity of students, this project has worked to establish the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) course through a partnership with San Jose area high schools, while simultaneously providing ECS training to teachers from greater California. ECS is a new pre-Advanced Placement (AP) course providing an introduction to the breadth of computer science. ECS is a year-long course consisting of six units: Human-Computer Interaction, Problem Solving, an Introduction to Programming, Web Design, Computing and Data Analysis, and Robotics. Assignments and instruction are inquiry and equity based and designed to be socially relevant and meaningful in order to attract and engage all students – especially those from groups under-represented in computing. With NSF support, ECS has been deployed in schools and districts across the nation, including sites in California, Illinois, Utah, Oregon and Washington, D.C. The specific goals of the San Jose project have been to prepare and support teachers to implement the ECS curriculum, teach high school students rigorous computer science, improve students’ perceptions of computer science, and expand implementation of the ECS course. Project components include summer professional development workshop, the curricular content of the ECS course, and a community of practice of CS teachers. Since the summer of 2010, the project has provided professional development training on the ECS curriculum to a total of 47 teachers. In addition, our 10 partner schools in the San Jose area have been provided with equipment and graduate computer science students to support the teachers in their classrooms. As a direct result of the training, ECS has been offered in our 10 San Jose partner high schools since 2010-11 and is estimated that during the 2014-15 academic year it will have expanded to a total of 17 districts, with 26 schools offering 49 sections to 1,470 students. Some of the San Jose ECS teachers have made other significant contributions of their own to the national effort. While working in the summer of 2012 as a IISME Fellow at SRI, one teacher mapped the ECS curriculum to the California and Illinois state standards as well as to the national standards of Common Core, ISTE/NETS and the K-12 computer science standards of the Computer Science Teachers Association. The same teacher also began work at SRI the following summer on the development of a common set of ECS assessment instruments. Another teacher developed an alternative curriculum unit that replaces the use of LEGO Mindstorm robots with the significantly less expensive Finch robots to make it easier for schools to adopt the ECS curriculum. To insure sustainability of the ECS course after the end of the NSF funding, the project provided additional training to four of the local ECS teachers so that they could become ECS workshop leaders. In the summer of 2013 they served in a supportive role during a workshop held at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, and then were the primary instructors for a subsequent ECS workshop held at the offices of the San Jose Unified School District in the summer of 2014. As a result of their training, these four teachers are now working as workshop facilitators with, delivering ECS workshops at multiple locations across the country. Another ECS teacher trained by the project now serves as a affiliate, offering workshops on their curriculum for middle school teachers. Finally, as part of the project, students who enrolled in ECS at ten high schools in San Jose, California were monitored over a three-year period to investigate possible relationships between participation in ECS and scores on the standardized math tests. ECS students who took the Algebra II, Geometry or Summative Math portions of the California Standards Test (CST) scored significantly higher than non-ECS students. These results were independent of gender.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS)
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Program Officer
Janice E. Cuny
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Santa Clara University
Santa Clara
United States
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