Fresno State receives $1.2M to prepare teachers with computer science skills

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Fresno State receives $1.2M to prepare teachers with computer science skills

“Learn computer science. Change the world.” That is the slogan for Code.org, a nonprofit organization that promotes computer science in education and encourages participation by women and underrepresented minorities.

Computer science is a growing topic in California K-12 school curricula in regard to how closely it aligns with other subjects such as science, math, English and writing. Code.org states that one of the biggest barriers to offering computer science in K-12 schools is the lack of funds for hiring and training teachers. Only 47% of California public high schools teach computer science, according to the site.

Thanks to the efforts of faculty in the College of Science and Mathematics and the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, Fresno State received a five-year, $1.2 million dollar award from the National Science Foundation. This award will allow Fresno State to provide students in the College of Science and Mathematics a Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship to pursue further education to become a computing-capable teacher through the single subject credential program.

This program will help Fresno State support 60 students over five years to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching careers in the Central Valley.

“The program has several support mechanisms, including financial support, a community of practice, professional development workshops, one-on-one meetings with discipline-specific advisers and field experiences” said Dr. Matin Pirouz, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and the principal investigator of this NSF-funded project. “The scholarship covers tuition fees as well as a stipend for the duration of the program.”

Computer science teaches students important life skills, such as problem-solving, design and logical reasoning. According to Code.org, 90% of parents want their child to study computer science.

There is not just a local need, but a national need to prepare computing-capable teachers for high-need school districts. With Fresno State’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution, the campus is an ideal location to increase the number of underrepresented STEM teachers. The program will partner with local high-need school districts including Sanger Unified, Fresno Unified and Central Unified.

The state of California does not yet have a computer science teacher preparation program. The California State Board of Education published its Computer Science Strategic Implementation Plan in May 2019, recommending that “opportunities be created for students, especially underrepresented students, to participate in expanded learning, scholarships, internships and mentorships related to computer science.”

“This is an equity issue,” said Laura Alamillo, dean of the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State. “Providing additional support in computer science opens up opportunities not only for our teacher candidates but for children having access to teachers who are well prepared in the STEM area. Most of our teachers serve areas where children may not otherwise have access to STEM. The best way to provide access is to train our teachers to incorporate it into their everyday classroom. I am excited we have faculty who believe this to be crucial in providing access to all children.”

Fresno State has expanded the curricula for students in this single subject credential program to include three additional units toward computer science. These future teachers will learn about computing, how knowledge in this area empowers literacy and how to implement computer science skills in multiple courses for K-12 students.

“The program is expected to directly impact at least 7,000 high school students, many of whom are from less-resourced socioeconomic backgrounds,” Pirouz said.

The steps Fresno State is taking to prepare teachers with computational thinking will help build a national model for other teacher preparation programs to follow.

“Teachers with a computer science background are better able to prepare children not only for the future workforce but also to actively participate in local and global citizenship,” said Dr. Rohit Mehta, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Fresno State. “Children can become active problem solvers and change agents.”