In 2015, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance was awarded a National Science Foundation’s STEM+C grant. Since then MMSA along with our partners University of Maine Augusta and RSU 26/Orono School Department have trained over 60 teachers with the NSF funded Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum. Through a week-long summer institute and four follow-up professional development days, educators experience various CS concepts from algorithms to robots and society, and learn how to apply this curriculum in the classroom. MMSA, as part of our program, has also developed Maine-based lessons (MBLs) to supplement the ECS curriculum that focus on local workplace examples of the ECS units. The MBLs contain lesson plans and videos of local professionals employing CS concepts—such as a mechanic that shows how algorithms are used to diagnosis a car.
Our research team here at MMSA has been examining the outcomes of the program on both teachers and students for the last few years. They have found that the ECS trainings have both significantly increased educator confidence in teaching computer science concepts and facilitating discussion on key issues of computer science in society. Additionally, educators positively shifted their belief in the benefits of anchoring computer science curriculum to local contexts towards enhancing student comprehension of computer science concepts. “The videos worked great! Students were able to connect with the material in different ways,” one ECS educator said in reference to the MBLs, “they [students] would really start to see computer science in their communities.”
Students also shifted their ideas about how important robots and other computer science technologies are to local Maine-based businesses and careers. After experiencing the curriculum, especially the Maine-based lessons, students could better identify the use of computers and technologies in their local communities. “We’re seeing computer science and technology-based curriculum as a real gateway topic for Maine students on their path to increased interest in STEM fields,” Dr. Scott Byrd, Researcher at MMSA admits, “We think these subjects may be a key leverage point in helping increase student’s motivation to pursue a career in STEM, especially community-based STEM careers.”