(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has been awarded a two-year, $299,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop the “computational thinking” skills of kindergarten-through-fifth-grade students in the Ashland and Phoenix-Talent school districts.
The grant is part of the NSF’s Computer Science for All program, which is intended to extend computer science and computational thinking opportunities to all K-12 students in the U.S. Curriculum developed by SOU-led researchers, in partnership with teachers in the two school districts, will be intended for use in schools nationwide.
“It’s critical for students to learn computational thinking skills during their early years of elementary school,” said lead researcher Eva Skuratowicz, director of the Southern Oregon University Research Center (SOURCE). “That gives them the confidence to continue their learning in fields such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”
Computational thinking is the articulation of problems and solutions in logical, computer-like ways. Those skills enable people to decompose problems, identify patterns and design answers.
“CT solutions have evolved from general problem-solving skills because of advances in technology that have changed both the nature of problems that need to be solved and our ability to solve them,” said Maggie Vanderberg, an associate professor of computer science at SOU and research team member for the NSF project.
The two-year project, “Empowering K-5 Teachers in Southern Oregon Through CT,” will begin in October. For the first year, researchers and a small group of educators will work side-by-side to develop and assess CT classroom strategies. During the second year, a total of 16 local teachers – two each from the Phoenix-Talent School District’s Orchard Hill, Phoenix and Talent elementary schools, and the Ashland School District’s Bellview, John Muir, Helman, Walker and Willow Wind elementary schools – will be chosen to collaborate on the project.
Skuratowicz and her research team were awarded the highly competitive NSF grant on their third attempt. Their proposal has been developed over the past four years in collaboration with the two local school districts.
“It is a great honor for SOU to be chosen by the National Science Foundation to lead this important and far-reaching project,” said SOU Provost Susan Walsh, the university’s chief academic officer. “This is a tribute not only to the tenacity of the research team, but to the sense of collaboration that drives our university.”
Eping Hung, a computing teacher at Ashland’s Willow Wind Elementary School, has helped to develop the grant project, along with Gladys Krause from Virginia’s William and Mary College and Joseph Wilson from the American Institutes for Research.