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Elms Professor Receives Google Grant for Computer Science Education Project

CHICOPEE — A professor at Elms College has received a Google computer science research grant for $145,400 to lead research designed to broaden high-school students’ participation in computer science and programming courses, especially among underrepresented populations in the field, such as women and minorities.

Beryl Hoffman, associate professor of Computer Science and co-chair of the Natural Science, Mathematics, and Technology Division at Elms College, is leading the one-year project, titled “Transitioning from AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) to AP CSA Java: Learning from CSP Successes.”

Advanced-placement (AP) courses prepare high-school students for college by offering challenges and stimulation beyond the standard curriculum, allowing them to demonstrate advanced knowledge of a subject and even earn college credit by taking AP exams.

AP CSP provides a broad overview of computer science, including an introduction to programming with a focus on creative, collaborative, and engaging projects. Students who are introduced to computer science in a CSP course often want to continue to text-based programming in AP CSA Java, which focuses on Java programming, as found in introductory college programming courses.

“AP CSA is one of the least diverse AP exams in terms of participation,” Hoffman said. “It has the second-lowest percentage of female students taking the exam after AP physics.”

Hoffman’s research project will investigate how to adapt approaches used to broaden participation in AP CSP for use with the AP CSA Java course, and how to prepare and support teachers who are new to computer science as they transition from teaching the AP CSP course to the AP CSA Java course.

The researchers will adapt the CSP curriculum design to CSA Java and strive to improve the retention and success of traditionally underrepresented students as they transition from CSP to CSA courses. Some of the techniques borrowed from AP CSP will be interactive, creative, engaging projects; collaborative work; media computation; and support for transitioning from block to text-based languages in the student-facing curriculum, as well as the addition of teacher lesson plans that emphasize this transition and equity-based pedagogy.

This project will include a secondary exploration of how to prepare teachers who are new to computer science to transition from teaching CSP to CSA courses in order to support broadening participation in computer science, with targeted professional development for teachers to learn basic and advanced Java skills, as well as equity-based pedagogy.