Introductory Computer Science Courses Coming to Western Massachusetts High Schools

UMass Amherst and partners offer yearlong teacher preparation program

AMHERST, Mass. – Fourteen teachers from 12 western Massachusetts high schools today begin a week of curriculum planning and professional development to prepare them to offer a new introductory computer science class to their students in 2015-16.

The workshop is part of a statewide program organized by the University of Massachusetts Amherst as part of the Massachusetts Exploring Computer Science Partnership (MECSP), supported by a $40,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. This week’s workshop will be held at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke.

Schools that have committed to offer the course and tap teachers for the program include Chicopee Comprehensive, Easthampton, Gateway Regional, Granby, Greenfield, Holyoke High, Lenox, Ludlow, Murdock in Winchendon, Springfield’s Putnam Vocational Technical Academy, Ware, and Wilbraham and Monson Academy.

Renee Fall, director for the MECSP western regional hub, says, “For some schools and teachers, this will be the first computer science course they’ve offered. For others, it provides a more welcoming on-ramp to more advanced computer science courses at their schools. Our mission is to support teachers and high schools in offering this introductory course, which is designed to appeal to students who may not have had previous exposure or interest in computing.”

Fall says the teachers are preparing to offer students up to six units over the coming year covering such topics as human-computer interaction, data analysis, problem-solving, web design, robotics and introduction to Scratch programming.

The program includes the teacher professional development and a year-long curriculum structured in such a way that all students, especially those in schools with many low-income and students of color, are introduced to the problem solving, computational practices and modes of inquiry associated with doing computer science, says Fall.

Over the coming academic year, participating teachers will come to UMass Amherst and other technology industry or educational sites for four Saturday sessions and will take part in monthly gatherings in person or online. As more schools and teachers will be recruited in the fall for another summer workshop in 2016, they will have the opportunity to become teacher-leaders in future workshops.

Fall says, “The ECS teaching practices focus on equity, culture, and students’ curiosity. We hope to build community among the teachers that will benefit them as educational professionals, no matter the level of computing content they teach.”

“Computing is so integrated into most of what we do as citizens, consumers and workers today, so it is important for all students to understand basic concepts of computer science,” she adds.

UMass Amherst leads the western hub of the MECSP, a partnership with the Educational Development Center, UMass Boston, Framingham State University, Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council Education Foundation and the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network to train more than 100 Massachusetts teachers and reach more than 1,000 students.

The western Massachusetts ECS hub is part of the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education at the College of Information and Computer Sciences at UMass Amherst, led by Rick Adrion.