Grassroots Push for Computer Science Education Gears Up


For close to a year, I have been strategizing and working with Randy Raymond, a software engineer at Google, to make access to computer science education the new “Space Race” and create models that schools can scale to deliver instruction to students. We believe that this movement can be expanded and go a long way towards increasing diversity in fields like engineering and computing. A report from the Pew Research Center found that “Black and Hispanic adults are underrepresented among STEM college graduates compared with their share in the population, and a smaller share are earning degrees in a STEM field than in other degree programs.”

We have visited schools in South Florida and met with administrators, teachers, and students to assess current levels of computer science access and instruction and to find ways to add value to present academic programming. We sought to combine Randy’s knowledge of computer science from an academic perspective and its practical application in the economy with my experience facilitating many partnerships between K-12 schools, higher education institutions, corporations, and non-profit entities. Dr. Marcus BrightDr. Marcus Bright

Randy had early access to a computational thinking assessment that has been shown to have a significant level of predictive ability as it pertains to identifying students who are naturally inclined to perform well in computer-science oriented activities. We drew parallels between the assessment and the way that young basketball and football players are evaluated at early ages and put into infrastructures and systems where their talent can be nurtured and developed. 

We want to create a parallel system of development for computer science and other fields. The aim is not to segregate those who score well on the assessment to the exclusion of others but rather to bring more students into an advanced level of exposure and training in addition to those who are already interested in the space and want to pursue computer science and other tech related areas. 

In the systems that we are endeavoring to create, everyone has an opportunity to play just like in basketball for example. Some people play pick-up basketball, some play in intramural games, some play on the freshman team, some play on the junior varsity team, some play on the varsity team, some are starters for the varsity team, some also play for an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, some play AAU on one of the top circuits like Nike EYBL, and some play in top EYBL tournaments like the Peach Jam among other settings. 

We will begin piloting the initial stage of this concept at a South Florida area middle school during the Spring 2023 semester. The school has an existing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) magnet program where half of the students in the pilot will come from. The other half will come from the general student population. 

All of the students will take the aforementioned computational thinking assessment which will help to inform what version of a computer science curriculum they will receive. The curriculum will be personalized to each student based on their ability level which will be approximated based on the assessment. Some students will receive the Google Computer Science (CS) First curriculum that uses the Scratch block-based coding language to introduce computer science. Those who score particularly well on the assessment will be introduced to computer science through a JavaScript based curriculum.

We will work together with community partners to provide an assortment of career readiness and life skills workshops for the cohort, facilitate field trips aimed at exposure to the world of work, and bring in different tech sector mentors to provide guidance and inspiration to students.

Billionaire Tech Investor Robert Smith spoke about the need for more software programmers saying that “I like to say the most scarce commodity on the planet isn’t oil or lithium or cobalt, it’s actually software programmers…….there are seven and a half billion people on the planet," he added, "and only 29 million of us who write code for a living."

This grassroots push in South Florida to create more avenues for people to become software programmers and elevate the importance of students having access to high quality computer science education is set to gear up in 2023. The time to start wherever you are with what you have is now. 

 

Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and social impact facilitator.