Computer science initiative continues in thanks to grant

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Computer science initiative continues in thanks to grant

Photo by Zach Bukowski

Photo by Zach Bukowski

Photo by Zach Bukowski

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An initiative called Preparing the Upper Midwest for Principles of Computer Science has recently been able to continue its work with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The initiative is meant to help elementary, middle and high school students in both Wisconsin and Connecticut learn about the field of computer science.

Jack Pfeiffer, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and a research assistant at Marquette who volunteers for the program, said the goal of the program is to understand and promote the computer science curriculum throughout the Upper Midwest region of Wisconsin.

Lauren Desch, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences who also volunteers for the program, said the initiative aims to learn about the current state of how and where computer science is being taught and encourages the growth of the curriculum and the opportunities available to students.

Dennis Brylow, a computer science professor who oversees the initiative and how the grant money is spent, said “there is not enough computer science available to K-12 students.” Brylow has been working on the project since 2009 and has been helping promote computer science to K-12 students ever since.

When the company started, there were only 34 advanced placement science teachers for K-12 students in the state of Wisconsin, and the number continued to drop while they were first collecting data, Brylow said.

He said the initiative doubled the number of AP science teachers in the state, problems with computer science in K-12 schools persisted, which is why the initiative has continued. 

As a result of the work done within the initiative, it has received multiple grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education.

Despite only a 10% funding rate from the NSF,  the recent $2 million grant is the initiative third grant in 5 years.

Brylow said the initiative received the new grant because of the positive results they got from previous grants, and the fact they had been able to build up credibility with the NSF. Brylow is also in charge of overseeing how the grant money is being spent.

He said there are a lot of people involved with the initiative, including undergraduate and graduate students at Marquette, teachers from all over Wisconsin and staff members from Milwaukee Public Schools.

Pfeiffer and Desch both contributed to the initiative by teaching the concepts of computer science to high school students in Milwaukee. Desch said this includes introducing the students to programming, and Brylow said the volunteers help to run logistics. Most of the volunteers have other jobs, but they still commit their time to help with the initiative.

Brylow said the initiative holds workshops for K-12 teachers to learn effective ways to teach computer science to their students. Brylow said the volunteers teaching the classes “do a lot of modeling at the workshops” and go through actual lessons that the teachers can demonstrate to their students back in the classroom.

Brylow also said they do activities such as having the teachers pretend to be students in a class so they can see what teaching methods will be effective and which ones won’t. The teachers also practice  teaching the content at the workshops.

Brylow said the initiative is thankful to have the support of Marquette.

Pfeiffer said he hopes him and his fellow volunteers will be able to plant a seed for computer science at the schools they volunteer at.

Desch also said she hopes the course will continue to grow at these schools and provide students the chance to explore the field of computer science.

Brylow said he wants to help kids who might get left behind when it comes to the field of computer science. He hopes teachers will continue to take part in the program, and he is excited to see the results of the initiative.  

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