Students with a basic knowledge of computer science are more likely to excel in a variety of subject areas, including mathematics, statistics, robotics and more.
To make this critical field more accessible and fun for young students, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from Clemson University and the University of Georgia will use a $950,000 award from the National Science Foundation to partner with rural schools in South Carolina on a three-year research project.
Matthew Madison, an assistant professor in the UGA Mary Frances Early College of Education, is collaborating with the study’s principal investigator, Danielle Herro, on collecting and analyzing data using quantitative methods that will allow findings to be generalized to other populations of teachers and students.
“The overarching goal of this project is to increase participation in STEM education, particularly among rural and special education elementary school populations by providing agile learning opportunities responsive to their needs,” said Madison, who teaches in the department of educational psychology. “The research-practice partnership is key here; we are combining the expertise and experiences of three groups that typically do not collaborate: teachers, researchers and local industry professionals.”
According to Herro, an associate professor in Clemson’s College of Education, effective curricula specifically for computer science exists in school districts around South Carolina. However, moving computer and data science into mainstream education, particularly in rural elementary schools with large special education populations, is not common.
The project encourages teachers in rural areas to highlight the issues, strengths and interests of their community instead of applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Within the curriculum, students convey their learning through videos, text, images, drawing, participating in simulations, visualizing ideas or playing with tools.
“Our vision is for this research-practice partnership model to be transferrable and replicable in other settings and populations in terms of collaborating with teachers and local communities and creating computer science modules based on local issues that will pique students’ attention,” said Madison.
By introducing an instructional module called Computational Thinking-STEM Pop-Up, or CT-STEM Pop-Up, the research team can create and implement customizable courses based on student need. This module offers opportunities for students to engage in new, hands-on material not covered in traditional curriculum.
“With respect to my methodological expertise, we will be collecting important contextual data that will inform how the computer science instructional modules can be adapted to maximize their efficacy in different settings for different populations of students,” said Madison. “By creating computer science modules around local problems of interest to the students, they will be engaging in authentic computer science and data science activities.”
The research team is currently working with school partners to identify community issues, student interests and local resources to support classroom learning. The award will run for three years with the potential for benefits outside of those directly involved in the research project.
Throughout the life of the project, the team plans to share the modules online and at conferences and workshops, making them freely available for others to customize after they implement, test and revise them in classrooms. The team foresees the development of between 12 and 16 modules that can be shared and customized by the end of the project.
“It’s truly exciting to have a team of researchers that we have devoted to this project because it means we’re being as inclusive with this research as possible, while ensuring our findings won’t just benefit the schools in which we’re working,” Herro said. “We’re hopeful to see their impact felt in rural and urban areas far beyond those in South Carolina.”