BHSU-led Partnership is awarded National Science Foundation grant of nearly $500,000 to enhance K-12 computer science education

Author: BHSU Communications/Thursday, September 18, 2014/Categories: 2014


           Black Hills State University faculty and staff (left to right) Janet Briggs, Julie Dahl, Ben Sayler, and June Apaza strategize plans for a new grant project to enhance K-12 computer science education in the Black Hills region.   

           Julie Dahl (left) and Ben Sayler discuss ways to integrate computer programming into K-12 computer science education.  BHSU received a grant from the National Science Foundation to provide innovative computer science classes at the high school level.


Black Hills State University received a grant of $469,628 from the National Science Foundation to increase and enhance computer science learning opportunities for Kindergarten-12th grade students in the Black Hills region.


The three-year grant program, "Expanding Pathways into Computer Science," will begin this fall.


Building on a legacy of partnerships with K-12 schools, BHSU will collaborate with area districts to offer a yearlong, innovative computer science class at the high school level.  Over the span of three years, project leaders plan to support 24 teachers in implementing the course and serve 600 students taking the course.


"As a University we embrace our legacy of preparing exceptional future teachers," said BHSU President Tom Jackson, Jr.  "This grant furthers our commitment to advancing education in our region by giving us the opportunity to be involved with the development of high school courses in the rapidly advancing and ever changing field of computer science."


The grant project builds upon the collaborative success of over a decade of mathematics education work by BHSU, Rapid City Area Schools, and Technology and Innovation in Education, a Rapid City-based service agency. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and the Sanford Underground Research Facility are joining the partnership as well, specifically in support of this new initiative.


"There&rsquos a national movement to increase computer science education at the K-12 level," said Dr. Ben Sayler, principal investigator on the grant and professor of mathematics and physical science at BHSU.  "And there&rsquos national interest at the University level for incoming students to already have had some exposure to computer science at the high school level.  This project helps serve significant national needs."


In its call for proposals, the National Science Foundation states that "it is critical that our nation maintain a competent, competitive and creative STEM workforce, including teachers...NSF aims to inspire and motivate the next generation of that workforce," according to the NSF website.

BSHU&rsquos proposal was among the top applications submitted from throughout the United States.  The NSF anticipates funding only five percent of all application proposals received within this funding category.


"The applications were highly competitive," said Sayler.  "We&rsquore grateful to be able to engage in this work with NSF support."


Dr. June Apaza, co-project investigator and director of the Center for the Advancement of Math and Science Education (CAMSE) at BHSU, said the project will establish "Exploring Computer Science" as a yearlong class within regional school districts.  The project aims to build enrollment in the class and contribute research findings about teaching and learning computer science at the high school level.


"Through the grant we&rsquoll prepare teachers to use an innovative, nationally-recognized curriculum for a yearlong computer science class that will complement existing information technology classes already offered in districts," said Apaza.  "The curriculum fosters 21st century learning skills such as mathematical reasoning and problem-solving. "


Dr. Pat Simpson, dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, congratulated Dr. Sayler, Dr. Apaza and their team on the grant award.


"Dr. Sayler and Dr. Apaza have opened yet another avenue for partnering with preschool through 12th grade teachers to improve student learning," said Dr. Simpson.  "We are very proud of their work and are excited about this opportunity."


The project strategically targets freshman and sophomore high school students who rarely have the opportunity to take computer science courses. Apaza said computer science classes in K-12 school districts typically serve only advanced placement students.  A broader array of students is desired.


"Often the most unlikely learner, the student who isn&rsquot necessarily successful in a lot of other things, is really good at computer science," said Apaza.  "This class will be open to all students who have interest."  


Sayler said that&rsquos exactly why the grant project is called "Expanding Pathways into Computer Science."  


"Right now it&rsquos a narrow pathway," said Sayler.  "We&rsquore expanding opportunities to a broader audience who will engage with the intellectual components of computer science and see its relevance in their lives."


Sayler, also director of education and outreach at Sanford Lab, said the project team will explore how to connect the scientific research of the lab can to K-12 computer science education. "The captivating scientific research of Sanford Lab offers many examples of exciting, real-world computer science applications," said Sayler.


Apaza said K-12 teachers and university faculty will learn from each other.


"Projects like these give University faculty insight into the K-12 arena and give K-12 teachers an opportunity to talk with University faculty about the kind of preparation needed for their students and also for future educators," said Apaza.  "We&rsquore excited to join with neighboring school districts to continue preparing students with 21st century skills."


The grant begins this month and runs through 2017.
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