Trinity College - Mobile Apps Expo - May 24, 2016

Ralph Morelli, Trinity College professor of computer science. Photo by John Atashian.​

A supplemental grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the extension of a project led by Ralph Morelli, Trinity College professor of computer science, to train high school educators to teach an Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles course through the use of app development (Mobile CSP).

This supplemental grant of $1,187,819 will allow Morelli to scale the program to an online classroom and nine satellite locations across the country this summer to instruct high school educators to teach the CSP course. The award to Trinity College includes a sub-award to the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, which is a partner in the professional development program.

Working with Morelli as the co-principal investigator for the Trinity project is Dr. Chinma Uche, president of the Connecticut chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). Pauline Lake ’13 is their full-time teacher consultant and staff member. At St. Scholastica, the PI is Assistant Professor Jennifer Rosato and her co-PI is Professor Chery Takkunen Lucarelli.

“The new high school AP course is designed to reach a broader range of students,” Morelli said. “Computer science is really an important discipline. A lot of jobs require computing skills, but I think it’s even more important than that, given the ubiquity in computing in everything we do now. It’s important that students be studying this: How do computers work? Why are they having these good effects, why are they having these bad effects, and what can we do about them? Pick any field, and you can cite examples of how you need to know some computing.” Acknowledging the need for students of all ages to be exposed to computer science in school, President Obama announced a Computer Science for All initiative earlier this year.

In order for high schools to offer this AP course, teachers first must learn how to teach it. “The NSF started a project to develop curricula for this new course and to train teachers,” Morelli said. “That’s where our funding comes from.” Many high schools do not have dedicated computer science teachers, so teachers from all disciplines may participate in the professional development. “It is a big stretch for some of them,” Morelli said. “The key goal of the summer professional development is to get them confident enough to say, ‘I can teach this.’”

Morelli’s initial grant proposal in 2012 was to train 30 Connecticut teachers over three years using Mobile CSP; that goal was exceeded. In 2014, the NSF awarded another grant to the College of St. Scholastica to scale the Mobile CSP online. “Together we’ve created what’s called a MOOC, a massive open online course, which hosts our materials,” Morelli said. “We use that for the professional development course which we offer to teachers in the summer. Teachers then use that same course in their classrooms.”

Last summer the project trained cohorts of teachers in Manchester, New Hampshire, San Francisco, and Boston. “We ended up training more than 100 teachers altogether,” Morelli said. “This year, with this supplemental funding, we’re going to train 80 teachers online with the funds that go through St. Scholastica, and the Trinity funds go to train 80 teachers that are spread out in different local cohorts. There’s a total of nine of them: New York City; Manchester, New Hampshire; Holyoke, Massachusetts; Kean University in New Jersey; Germanna Community College in Virginia; the University of San Francisco; Bucks County Community College outside of Philadelphia; the University of Delaware; and at Trinity College here in Hartford.” St. Scholastica has already committed to training another120 teachers next year. “The idea is to have our project, together with other projects of the same kind, train something like 10,000 computer science teachers,” Morelli said. “The name of the program we’re funded under in NSF is CS 10K.”

The mobile CSP course has been endorsed by the College Board, so the hundreds of teachers who get this training can then simply submit the Mobile CSP syllabus to the Board and it will be approved as an AP course for their respective schools, Morelli said.

“In the online version of this project, the course meets four weeks entirely online. The teachers are spread out, some in rural areas, and it can be very difficult for them to get professional development like this,” Morelli said. After educators learn how to teach computer science, they will be able to offer the AP CSP class, which means, as Morelli explained, “Students will have access to something they would otherwise not have.”

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli