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Summer institute trains Alabama teachers on new computer science curriculum

August 03, 2018

Contact: Michael Tullier, APR, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

High school teachers sitting in workshop
High school teachers participate in computer science summer institute.

In mid-July, 52 teachers from Alabama high schools proved that learning and teaching are year-round endeavors as they attended a computer science-focused summer institute hosted by Tuskegee University.

The institute, held on Tuskegee’s campus from July 16-20, trained these educators to teach a new, high school-level computer science course, entitled “Exploring Computer Science.” The course is designed to provide students with a rigorous foundation in authentic computer science topics.

The summer institute is part of a $1 million, multi-institutional partnership grant awarded to Tuskegee by the National Science Foundation that funds “ECS4Alabama” — short for “Exploring Computer Science for Alabama.” It is designed to provide Alabama’s high school students with greater access to computer science education — especially those in rural, high-minority districts.

“Computer science education is drastically marginalized in schools throughout the U.S.,” explained Dr. Mohammed Qazi, a professor of mathematics at Tuskegee who oversees the implementation of this grant as its principal investigator. “With hundreds of thousands of available high-tech sector jobs, we must prepare many more K-12 students in computing so they are in a position to compete for these jobs.”

Through this project, one teacher per participating high school receives curriculum training and preparation in several phases at Tuskegee during a one-year period. Of the 52 teachers attending the 2018 summer institute, 24 were recruited during the 2016-17 school year and taught the ECS course to more than 550 high schools students across the state during the 2017-18 school year.

Qazi emphasized the project is as much about composition of the future technology workforce as it is about the number of qualified candidates for these jobs.

“This project targets Alabama high schools that almost exclusively have large minority enrollments,” he said. “Our partnership with these high schools and their teachers is not just about preparing future professionals for computer science-related fields. It is about ensuring we address the drastic lack of both ethnic and gender diversity in these high-tech sectors.”

According to Qazi, 78 percent of the inaugural 550-student Exploring Computer Science cohort was minority — with female students comprising nearly half of it.

As Crystal Johnson, a teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, pointed out, the summer institute helped increase teachers’ comfort level with presenting these highly technical topics to their students.

“After participating in the summer institute I now feel that I have the necessary training to be off to a great start,” she said after recalling that she was originally concerned that this new curriculum might be “overwhelming and tedious” for her and her fellow teachers.

“The lessons are easy to comprehend as well as interesting. They span several disciplines, and there is something in it for all students. This course truly encompasses equity and inquiry,” she continued.

The ECS course is organized around six exciting units: “Human Computer Interaction,” “Problem Solving,” “Web Design,” “Programming,” “Data Analysis” and Robotics. The course is a stepping stone to Alabama’s Advanced-Placement (AP) “Computer Science Principles” course.

Other ECS4Alabama partners include the University of Alabama, Auburn University, The Exploring Computer Science Team, A+ College Ready, and the Alabama State Department of Education. 

© 2018, Tuskegee University