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New programs aim to boost computer science education

Kenneth Corbin | Dec. 10, 2014
The Obama administration is unveiling a series of new efforts aimed at boosting computer science education at the K-12 level, including funding commitments from tech companies and philanthropic organizations and pledges from dozens of school districts to expand their curriculum offerings.

"A key part of this is the creation of scalable models for professional development for teachers," says France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is to play a key role in the administration's work to advance computer science education.

The NSF has been working under the long-term goals it set in the CS 10K Project, through which it is seeking to establish rigorous computer science courses in 10,000 schools around the country, taught by 10,000 well-qualified teachers, with the ultimate goal of making CS education available in every school.

Under the auspices of that program, the NSF has announced partnerships with a bevy of nonprofit organizations, including the College Board, which is piloting an advanced placement course called Computer Science Principles that seeks to marry the traditional programming fundamentals with the more creative aspects of the discipline.

In part, that approach supports another key pillar of Monday's announcement — to broaden interest in computer science among women and other groups that are underrepresented in the discipline.

Classroom Design Matters

One of the new efforts to broaden diversity in computer science courses involves a contest that the USA Science and Engineering Festival is holding to solicit novel design ideas for computer science classrooms, building on research that has indicated a connection between classroom layout and the participation of young women.

"Turns out that the design of the classroom affects how welcoming it seems to girls and women who are thinking about whether or not they're going to do computer science," says John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

"What's around you makes you feel like you belong or not," adds U.S. CTO Megan Smith, who says the contest seeks to develop new models for "inclusive physical spaces" in schools.


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