With a new round of grant funding, a team of three Hood College professors is entering the fourth phase of its multi-year effort to educate educators about computer science.
The roughly $40,000 grant from the Maryland Center for Computing Education (MCCE), announced last month, is the latest in a series of awards that began in 2019.
The ongoing program, which partners Hood with other local education agencies including Frederick Community College and Frederick County Public Schools, aims to give prospective teachers, new teachers and veteran teachers alike an understanding of computational thinking.
Ideally, primary and secondary students would learn about computer science from people with computer science backgrounds, said Jennifer Cuddapah, a professor in Hood’s Organizational Leadership doctoral program.
But that’s not happening on a large scale in Frederick County — or anywhere across the country, she said.
“Once you have a degree in computer science, the field of teaching is not as appealing,” Cuddapah said. “It’s a very niche person who wants to have that level of a degree, and then say, ‘You know what? Money isn’t that important. I’d rather work for one-third of what I could earn.'”
So instead, Cuddapah said, Hood is working to give public school teachers — many of whom have never taken a computer science course — the baseline knowledge they need to start laying the groundwork for their students.
“You want the children to have an understanding of it, so that they might choose these various fields,” Cuddapah said. “Almost every organization needs people with a background in this.”
Cuddapah, along with Marisel Torres-Crespo, an associate professor of education at Hood with a focus in early childhood, and Jiang Li, an assistant professor of computer science, have been leading that charge in Frederick County since 2019.
It started with a series of workshops where FCPS teachers and Hood education students could start to grasp the basic computational concepts of logic, coding and problem solving.
Then, during the pandemic, current and soon-to-be educators worked to design robotics kits and built lesson plans around them.
For the third round, computer science experts from Hood taught more in-depth workshops to education faculty members like Cuddapah and Torres-Crespo.
And for the fourth round, Li, Cuddapah and Torres-Crespo are planning a two-day educational conference in partnership with FCPS, FCC and Montgomery College. They hope to hold it in April.
Since 2019, 66 current or future educators have received training through the program, Cuddapah said. About a third of them have been FCPS classroom teachers.
She and Torres-Crespo said they were hopeful the conference would expand the program’s reach.
It’s important that educators feel confident when delivering material to their students, they said.
“Nothing makes you more insecure than teaching something that you don’t know,” Cuddapah said.
Though the material can be daunting, mastering the basics of computational education is easier than many people think, Torres-Crespo said.
“When you wake up in the wake up in the morning, you are solving problems, making decisions, following instructions step by step,” she said. “That’s computational thinking.”
Neither Cuddapah nor Torres-Crespo has a computer science background. But they’ve seen success in their program because of partnerships between educators with a wide array of specialities, they said.
“And as long as that continues to happen, we’ll keep applying [for grants] and keep coming up with ideas,” Cuddapah said. “We’re excited about it. We just find it to be fascinating.”
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