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Middle-Schoolers Get Hands-On Chance to Develop Mobile Apps

UMass Lowell Computer Science Classes, Camp Come to Everett, Medford

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07/02/2015


Contacts:  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell is using a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to teach middle-schoolers how to design mobile apps as a way to inspire them to further study computer science and technology.

Launched in the Everett and Medford school systems, the Middle School Pathways in Computer Science Program is teaching students how to develop mobile apps by whetting their creative appetite to improve the world around them. Students enrolled in the classes are producing apps to help users recognize cyber-bullying, build self-esteem, learn about foreign cultures and diagram football plays.

From Monday, July 6 through Friday, July 10, the program’s summer camp sessions will be held at high schools in Everett and Medford. The goal is to make computing a permanent part of the curriculum in these school systems, then share these lesson plans with teachers across the country so they may replicate the program in their communities.

The initiative is headed by UMass Lowell Computer Science Prof. Fred Martin, a Westford resident. Assisting him in introducing the program to middle-school teachers is Mark Sherman, a UMass Lowell doctoral student in computer science who lives in Lowell. The program’s partners include the nonprofit Tri-City Technology Education Collaborative, which works with the Everett, Malden and Medford school districts.

“The Middle School Pathways in Computer Science Program teaches computational skills so they appeal to as many students as possible to help young people discover they have a passion for computer science, which many of them may not realize. In the bigger picture, we want students to understand they can use the field to make positive changes in the world. That message resonates with them and piques their interest,” Martin said.  

Funded by the NSF over three years, the program has already introduced technology instruction to students in the Whittier School and Keverian School in Everett and the Andrews and McGlynn middle schools in Medford.

Students’ ideas and interests are the starting point for the applications they are developing. These include a program to help peers deal with the effects of cyber-bullying, a daily affirmations app that builds self-esteem, a program created by foreign-born students that teaches teens about cultural customs and differences, and an app that allows football coaches to diagram plays on a tablet.    

Students are building their programs via a Web-based app inventor system, which is accessible on their computers. The teens are also equipped with tablets that display the applications as they are being built and install them once they are complete.

An estimated 80 students in the program will attend the computer science camp at Everett and Medford high schools next week in the first of what is hoped will be annual summer sessions. In the coming year, computer science coursework will be implemented in other middle schools in Everett and Medford. Over the life of the program, organizers estimate more than 1,400 students will be educated and even more may participate in the future.

“We’re collaborating with the teachers to develop their own lesson plans, be it in technology, engineering or non-science fields, such as art. We’re supporting them as creative agents so they can share computer science with their students in ways that make sense for them,” Martin said.  

Teachers participating in the program include Dawn Munro at the Whittier School and Denise Salemi at the Keverian School in Everett, Debbie Corleto and Michael Scarola at the McGlynn Middle School and Azita Pourali-Bacon at the Andrews Middle School in Medford.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 17,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu