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February 5, 2015

To address a critical shortage of K-12 computer science teachers, students and courses, the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching (TRC) hosted a workshop in Austin that brought together computer science researchers, educators and technology industry representatives.

Jason Turnbull

Jason Turnbull of Fort Worth ISD explores an interactive display board at the TACC Vizualization Lab during the TRC CS Network Training.

The TRC, which is part of the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, offers award-winning, high quality, research-based STEM professional development to teachers statewide.

“In case anyone still needs convincing,” said Carol Fletcher, the TRC’s associate director and event organizer, “there’s a wealth of data showing a dire problem in computer science education. Last year, only 15,000 students in the entire state of Texas took computer science I, II or AP classes, and only 90 new teachers passed the certification exam to teach the subject.”

“Even though 20 percent of the jobs in Austin are in technology, and statistics show that by 2020 the U.S. is going to need at least a million more programmers, the number of new computer science degree holders is steadily falling. The TRC is committed to reversing this trend.”

According to Fletcher, the Texas high school teachers who are part of the TRC’s computer science network and who attended the workshop will be among the leaders who transform computer science education around the state.

To create a strong Texas computer science pipeline, workshop participants examined solutions that included:

  • investing in a statewide, systemic program to train and certify skilled computer science teachers
  • incentivizing districts to offer computer science through weighted funding
  • increasing the number of high-level, project-based computer education courses
  • developing online and volunteer resources that connect high schools with interesting, accomplished professionals in computer science fields
  • aggressively recruiting females and minorities with messages and activities specifically targeted to them
  • marketing the variety and scope of possible careers

Kim Garcia

Kim Garcia of Georgetown ISD

Lorilyn Owens, director of Oracle Academy North America, outlined her company’s involvement. “The TRC model helps foster a strong and supportive community of practice, and offers additional support for educators at the regional and state levels.  We are honored to collaborate with an inspirational leader like Carol Fletcher in order sustain and grow Texas’ commitment to computer science education and educators.”

Among the state and national stakeholders who spoke at the workshop were Owen Astrachan, a computer science professor at Duke University; Hal Speed and Jake Baskin with Code.org; Tricia Berry, director of UT Austin’s Women in Engineering Program and the Texas Girls Collaborative Project; Tyra Crockett, senior marketing manager with Oracle Academy; Lien Diaz, the College Board’s senior director of curriculum and content development; and Rosalia Gomez with UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). IBM, Oracle Academy, TCEA, Dell and the TACC sponsored the event.

“You know, people don’t say, ‘I’m not a reading person,’ but every time you turn around you hear someone say, ‘I’m not a math person,’” said Berry. “It’s crucial that we work on dispelling negative stereotypes and incorrect information about STEM fields and subjects. It’s about creativity as much as the arts are, and it’s about problem solving, exploring and designing. If we can give STEM an image overhaul, more individuals will realize they really are science and math people.”

To learn more about how the TRC is training and supporting a new generation of computer science teachers, visit the TRC’s Computer Science Resources website or contact Carol Fletcher at carol.fletcher@austin.utexas.edu.

The Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching (TRC) is an award-winning statewide network of 57 P-16 partnerships that provide research-based and high intensity professional development to P-12 teachers of science and mathematics across the state.

TRC’s innovative professional development programs prepare teachers to become science teacher mentors (STMs) and mathematics teacher mentors (MTMs), and nurture learning communities and support networks among P-12 schools, community colleges, and universities.

Texas Regional Collaboratives

 

How much science do four-year-olds know? More than you’d think.

To find out if the youngest students bring science knowledge with them to kindergarten, and if they’re capable of learning more than previously assumed, College of Education program coordinator Mary Hobbs and her research team observed, mentored and gathered data alongside 24 Austin area pre-kindergarten teachers.

Mary E. Hobbs, Ph.D.

Mary E. Hobbs, Ph.D.

An additional 24 AISD comparison classrooms were observed and, in all, 2,500 children were involved in the landmark project.

“What we found was that all children have science experiences and knowledge by kindergarten,” said Hobbs, who is coordinator for science initiatives in the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. “They may come from very different socioeconomic backgrounds and have parents with different levels of education attainment, but each child has absorbed some of what we’d define as science content by kindergarten.”

To assess children’s knowledge, teachers involved in the project gave them several tasks – like sorting and categorizing – that would reveal their grasp of basic, foundational science concepts.

Teachers and students also created raised bed gardens to give the children an outdoor lab in which to use their current science skills and learn even more about science.  Building the gardens, filling them with plants and nurturing the plants provided rich and varied opportunities for teaching life science, physical science and earth science.

According to Hobbs, the garden was an ideal resource to support student learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics because:

  • research has shown that preschool children normally are very drawn to the natural world and natural objects.
  • an onsite project like the garden gives all children, regardless of background and family financial resources, a common learning experience.
  • it’s a context in which children can learn everything from facts about plants, animals and the weather to concepts of force and motion.
James P . Barufaldi, Ph.D.

James P . Barufaldi, Ph.D.

“Learning tends to increase and problem-solving skills improve when children have opportunities to explore and they’re able to indulge their natural curiosity,” said Hobbs, “The garden allows children to learn through hands-on activities and inquiry-based instruction. It’s also a learning environment that can be adapted for any age group and in a variety of settings.”

The $2 million, four-year research project, called Building BLOCKS for Science, was the first of its kind to be funded by the National Science Foundation. Dr. James Barufaldi, director for the college’s Center for STEM Education, and Hobbs were co-principal investigators on the grant.

“What we found was that all children have science experiences and knowledge by kindergarten.” – Dr. Mary Hobbs

“The teachers were remarkably responsive and very excited about learning more science themselves as well as discussing with us the best ways to engage the children in science,” said Hobbs. “In working with the students, they started with what they thought was appropriate for that age group and as soon as they observed the students were capable of handling more, they adapted and began to add more varied and challenging activities.”

As part of the grant, the teachers were given intensive professional development training and mentoring support.

Hobbs and her team have shared their project findings with AISD, other Austin area school districts and many private day care facilities. The schools have implemented many of Hobbs’ recommendations, including building over 200 school gardens to use as teaching tools.

“We discovered that adults tend to consistently underestimate how much young children know and understand,” said Hobbs. “Seeing that they’re capable of much more, we can aim to adapt curriculum and do the necessary teacher training and mentoring to better prepare these students for the learning opportunities they’ll encounter later. Science is best taught by doing, and we are doing science in Austin!”

Photos by: Christina S. Murrey


Highlights

  • Dr. James Barufaldi and Dr. Mary Hobbs were co-principal investigators on a grant to examine how much science pre-K children know and can learn.
  • $2 million, four-year project
  • First of its kind to be funded by the National Science Foundation
  • 2,500 Austin area pre-K students were involved in the study
  • 24 teachers received mentoring and helped the researchers gather data