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K-12 Computational Thinking Initiative Gets $1 Million Boost From NSF

Digital Promise Global has received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to address equitable access to computational education in public schools.

The nonprofit's project, titled "Developing Inclusive K-12 Computing Pathways for the League of Innovative Schools," is a research-practice partnership between Digital Promise and the members of its flagship network of public school districts.

The partnership will set out "to design, study, and improve 12 school districts' computational thinking pathways," and focus primarily on addressing access and creating equitable learning experiences in computational education for underserved students, according to news release. Computational thinking is basically a form of learning in which students use problem-solving approaches and computing techniques to show problems and then determine their solutions. 

"Computation is super important to kids' futures," Jeremy Roschelle, executive director of Learning Sciences Research for Digital Promise Global, said in an interview. "We need to start early. We don't want kids to tune out this opportunity."

Roschelle pointed out that there are a lot of computational thinking resources that teachers can choose from, but that raises a lot of questions about what to use and why. Districts have done a lot of experimentation, but "now we need to figure out what we can do consistently," he said.

The project will focus on three "core" districts, each having its own goals to solve an equity problem:

  • Iowa City Community School District, Iowa, which has 14,000 students, aims to increase participation in computing among minority and English-Language Learners.
  • Indian Prairie School District, Illinois, which serves 28,000 students, wants to improve achievement for students from low-income families.
  • Talladega County Schools, Alabama, which has 7,500 students, plans to work to improve achievement among girls and low-income students.

The project will also involve nine "pilot" districts, which will also work to improve equity and access for target groups. The nine pilot districts are Compton Unified School District (Calif.); Elizabeth Forward School District (Pa.); Franklin West School District (Vt.); Henry County Public Schools (Va.); Highline Public Schools (Wash.); Kettle Moraine School District (Wis.); Mineola Public Schools (N.Y.); South Fayette School District (Pa.); Utica Community Schools (Mich.).

Every district will define its own pathway, or course of action, in terms of implementing computational thinking, Roschelle said. But each year of the three-year partnership will have a different focus: the first year will focus on the perception of the pathway, the second year on implementation and student experience, and the third year will emphasize how to continue improving the pathway.

In an increasingly digitized and computational world, several organizations have released revised computer science education standards. Last week, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) released new computational thinking standards. Code.org Advocacy Coalition and the Computer Science Teachers Association also released a report that shows states are increasingly adopting computer science policies, but many students still lack access.

Digital Promise aims to share the research they'll gain from the new project as an online toolkit for educators and districts to use, Roschelle said. The toolkit will have examples of pathways, surveys, and other resources to help districts plan their own courses of action.


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