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UMass gets $2M grant to help Springfield with computer science ed


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

AMHERST — Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have received a four-year, $2 million grant to carry out research that will help Springfield’s 33 elementary schools prepare students to understand and apply computer science and computational thinking.

Springfield is the second largest public school district in Massachusetts with almost 12,000 students, taught by more than 750 teachers, in grades K-5. They represent a diverse population including English learners, students with disabilities, underserved races and ethnicities and students experiencing poverty. Led by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education, the CSforAll program was launched in 2016 to ensure that computer science education is available to all students in the United States.

Professor Rick Adrion, a researcher in the College of Information and Computer Sciences, says his ambitious project will involve a multidisciplinary research team from UMass, the Five College Consortium, and MIT; Springfield Public School teachers, curriculum specialists and information technology professionals; plus evaluators from the Amherst firm SageFox Consulting Group to create “CSforAllSpringfield.”

“This is outstanding news. I appreciate our continued partnership with UMass. It is vitally important to start our kids along this line of learning STEM, computer science and technology at a young age and to get them and their families oriented towards a path of success,” said Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno.

“Having been a longtime lecturer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I know first-hand the caliber of their faculty and students,” said Congressman Richard E. Neal. “In today’s world, the role of STEM education, especially in young students, cannot be overstated. This partnership between UMass and the Springfield Public Schools will allow elementary-aged students to not only solve complex problems with the help of technology, but also help them see their potential for the future. This is tremendous news and will serve Springfield students well.”

“I’m very proud of the ongoing work at UMass Amherst to give all children an opportunity to learn the computer science skills necessary to succeed in today’s economy,” said Congressman Jim McGovern. “This grant is a huge win not only for students and teachers in Springfield — but for those around the country who will learn and benefit from the critically important research that is being done here.”

Two overarching goals of CSforAll Springfield will be to carry out research informed by the school district’s needs so educators can prepare Springfield’s youngest learners to “effectively use and create technology to solve complex problems” and to grow the expertise for computer science teaching and learning in the school district.

Adrion says the CSforAll research-practice partnership will integrate standards-based computer science and computational thinking concepts, learning progressions and practices in core lessons. To achieve this, the partners propose to create three cross-district professional learning communities of 20 K-5 teachers and specialists each.

“This grant will give Springfield teachers the ability to ensure their students gain critical thinking and computational skills by learning computer science, and we appreciate the commitment made by the University of Massachusetts to help teachers and students,” state Secretary of Education James Peyser said. “Knowledge of computer science is fundamental for all our students, and we are expanding access across the Commonwealth by adopting new digital literacy and computer science curriculum standards, amending the state’s recommended course requirements for high school students to include computer science, and training more teachers in the subject.”