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Teachers Workshop Gets Rave Reviews

Middle-, High-School Educators Love Computer-Science Initiative

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Teachers engage in lively group discussions during this year’s CS4HS workshop and conference.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

“It’s so enjoyable!” “It was great!” “It’s so cool!”
These are just some of the praises science and math teachers used to describe CS4HS, an innovative summer program sponsored by Google that promotes computer science (CS) and computational thinking in high-school and middle-school curricula.
UMass Lowell’s Engaging Computing Group (ECG), in collaboration with the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Greater Boston Chapter and the Advanced Math and Science Academy, recently organized the three-day workshop and conference on campus, which attracted 40 teachers from across the region.    
“Our goals are to provide teachers with ideas they can immediately bring into their classrooms, create a forum to share approaches with each other and encourage ideas and support for advocacy and equity in computer-science teaching and learning,” says CS Assoc. Prof. Fred Martin, director of the ECG and associate dean of the College of Sciences.
The event featured hands-on workshops on creating applications for Android smartphones and tablets using the MIT App Inventor, teaching CS with the low-cost Finch robot and mapping course and lesson plans to national CS standards. There were also panel discussions on curriculum, careers, advocacy and social issues as well as research talks on computer forensics, data management and telepresence robotics.
Speakers included CS Prof. Holly Yanco, National Science Foundation program officer Jeffrey Forbes, national CS education advocates Cameron Wilson and Chris Stephenson and Google Cambridge site director Steve Vinter.
“Attendance doubled over last year’s event and the network of CS teachers continues to grow,” says Vinter.
He says computer technology continues to evolve at a breathtaking pace, and teachers are discovering new ways to make CS education more engaging for students. 
“I believe students today are gaining technology literacy in Massachusetts schools, but not the knowledge to develop technology,” says Vinter. “Early on, we need to excite and inspire them about how computer technology is developed and used, and understand how ‘computational thinking’ is relevant to using technology in every field and industry.”
A Wealth of Information
“The workshops are incredibly interesting and well-taught,” says Donna Rucinski Harrington, who teaches art and technology, introductory programming and robotics at Innovation Academy Charter School in Tyngsboro. “We get to feel what it’s like to be a student and learn and play with computer-science projects.”
“Since our school’s charter is project-based education, I was looking for things I could bring into the classroom right away,” says Harrington, who also attended last year’s workshop. “I came back with abundant resources, and last fall I incorporated the App Inventor into my classes, used Artbotics in the art class and Botball in robotics. I also learned about other resources and made connections with local computer-science educators that have proved invaluable to me.”
She adds the presentations by UMass Lowell professors about current research in the field and their teaching strategies were really helpful and interesting, inspiring her to get students to seriously think about careers in computer science.
“The professors were funny and engaging, which was important, too!” says Harrington.
“All three days had something to offer to STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] teachers like me,” says David Petty, who teaches Grade 9 to 12 students at Winchester High School and is the coach of the Winchester Robotics Team.
“There was also ample time for breakout sessions and networking with other STEM teachers,” says Petty, who was a participant in last year’s workshop. “Both workshops were good in that they introduced hands-on approaches to integrating computer-science teaching with other STEM disciplines. This year’s workshop was especially satisfying because I felt the focus was on how engineering design coupled with national standards for computer science. A cool extra was — thanks to generous sponsors — we took home a Finch robot and Android tablet!”
In addition to Google, sponsors that provided financial and/or hardware support included the CSTA, Lenovo and the Commonwealth Alliance for IT Education (CAITE).