Computer Science for All K-12 Students

Funding collaborative work to bring computer science to all students

North Carolina State University

Game-changing scientific discoveries are often the product of relentless collaboration. The Game-Changing Research Incentive Program (GRIP) at North Carolina State University (NCSU) asks local university personnel and RTI researchers to propose ways to stimulate the growth of interdisciplinary research. GRIP provides large-scale seed funding for collaborative research efforts.

The GRIP program, a joint effort by the NCSU Office of Research, Innovation & Economic Development, RTI, and the Kenan Institute for Energy, Technology, and Science, allocates funding over three years to advance visionary research ideas. The program committee comprised of faculty and administrators from NCSU, the University of North Carolina, and RTI received 59 pre-proposals from more than 300 faculty members within ten NCSU schools and colleges.They awarded funding to four projects, three of which included RTI researchers and NCSU faculty as principal investigators.

Preparing Students for a Technology-Driven Workforce with Greater Access to Computers

According to former President Obama’s Computer Science for All (CS4ALL) initiative, in 2016 there were 500,000 open tech jobs in the U.S., and that number is expected to double by 2020. These jobs typically pay 50 percent more than an average private-sector job.

Given the prevalence of smart phones, gaming stations, and even AI devices, it may be surprising to know the U.S. is home to numerous people who lack access to computers and computer science instruction. This training gap could prevent already marginalized groups from being empowered with a background in computer science that would increase their potential earnings.

It is well documented that a high score on the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in Computer Science can increase a student’s chance of being accepted at a school with a strong computer science program, saving them time and money pursuing a degree. However, the technology divide defined by geography, economic status, gender, and race persists.

CS4All is intended to remedy some of the technological inequalities across U.S. schools:  

  • CS4All reported that most U.S. high schools do not offer a single computer science course.
  • In 2015, only 22 percent of the students who took the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam were female.
  • Only 13 percent of those who took the AP Computer Science were African-American or Latino and Latina students.

In light of these challenges and the persistent technology divide, it is crucial that students receive computer science training as part of a regular public school curriculum.

Determining Best Strategies for Teaching Computer Science from K-12

Our education researchers sought to address this lack of computer science in K-12 education by launching an effort to establish NCSU as a national center with the aim of providing pre-college students with foundational knowledge in computational thinking. Another goal of the project is to broaden participation in computer science among females and underrepresented minority students.

To accomplish this, our education researchers designed a four-part, systematic approach for improving the value of and access to computer science training.

Our researchers will begin by determining how students best learn key concepts and processes of computer science, and then assess the effectiveness of alternative teaching approaches. Identifying and confronting the challenges a student may face in studying computer science allows educators to improve the learning experience while maximizing the efficacy of teaching methods.

The second element of our approach is to understand how students acquire the core aspects of computer science: designing learning resources to guide and support instruction and learning of computer science. Our researchers will employ emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence-driven tutors and interactive, virtual learning environments to broadly capture the interest of students.

The third component of our project will seek to educate teachers and provide them with professional development resources. The goal is to prepare teachers to best deliver computational science curricula to their students so the students are equipped to work and thrive in a technology-driven economy.  

The last component is designed to support and inform principals, district leaders, local school board members, and state policymakers with decisions about computer science policy and education.

Enabling Our Students to Make the Most of the Digital Economy

Through our work to make computer science accessible to all students, kindergarten through 12th grade, our aim is to increase U.S. students’ foundational knowledge in computational thinking, especially for underrepresented minority students and females.  

This project is response to the “tremendous need” cited by former Present Barack Obama in his 2016 State of the Union address to “empower all students from kindergarten through high school to learn computer science and be equipped with the computational thinking skills they need to be creators in the digital economy, not just consumers, and to be active citizens in our technology-driven world.”