FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — Fresno State received a $1.2 million award program that will help support 60 students over five years to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching careers in the Central Valley.
“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.
“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.”
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 Code.org.
Fresno State says 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.
“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 curriculum 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.
“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.”
Fresno State says the steps they are taking to prepare teachers with computational thinking will help build a national model for other teacher preparation programs to follow.