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New Federal Grants Aim to Boost Computer-Science Education

Two federal grants that were just announced will together provide nearly $27 million to advance computer science education. The announcements come the same week that a new report was issued raising concerns that the subject is getting short shrift in schools.

The National Science Foundation is providing a $12.5 million grant to UCLA to promote new and innovative computer science instruction in high schools through the use of mobile phones and Web technology. (The effort will also use that technology for standards-based math and science classes.)

The project, dubbed MOBILIZE: Mobilizing for Innovative Computer Science Teaching and Learning, is a partnership between two UCLA centers and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

A press release explains that using "participatory sensing technologies, MOBILIZE will develop and implement challenging, engaging, hands-on projects and curricula for high school computer science courses, as well as for standards-based mathematics and science classes." It explains that participatory sensing allows students to collect and analyze data using mobile phones and Web technology.

"MOBILIZE takes a technology that is near and dear to students' hearts—the mobile phone—and turns it into a tool for collecting and analyzing data and for applying the scientific method to local environmental and urban issues," Deborah Estrin, a computer science professor at UCLA and the project's principal investigator, said in a press release.

Meanwhile, an agency of the Department of Defense is providing a three-year, $14.2 million grant designed to create compelling activities and opportunities for middle and high school students in computer science, with the larger goal of increasing the number of college graduates with degrees in computing and related fields.

The grant from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will support three separate approaches to engage young people. One, called "Teach Ourselves" and developed by the University of Arizona's Department of Computer Science, will create an online community of students and teachers focused on posing and solving problems in math and science. The grant also will support an online robotics academy, developed by Carnegie Mellon University, which aims to help students "sharpen their ability to solve complex problems by equipping them with algorithmic thinking skills, engineering processes, math, and programming know-how," a DARPA press release says. The third strand will support the development of an extracurricular online community for middle and high school students focused on computer science and STEM. This website, to be built by TopCoder Inc., will feature practice activities, competitions, discussion boards, among other things.

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