$902,000 NSF Grant for Computer Education

Computer Science Professor Ralph Morelli has been awarded a $902,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to promote the use of a mobile computer science principles curriculum (Mobile CSP) in Connecticut public schools. Starting first in Hartford, high school teachers will be trained to teach computer science courses in schools that don’t currently offer them. Students in the Hartford public school system are currently not given the opportunity to study computer science.

The program marks a unique collaboration between Trinity, the Hartford Public School System, the Connecticut Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, and Hartford-area high schools. The project will expand to other Connecticut cities and towns, and it is estimated that between 300 and 600 students will be involved. The grant runs through the end of 2015. The Mobile CSP will use a new computing language, App Inventor for Android, to provide a rigorous, programming-based introduction to computational thinking. Inventor for Android was created by Hal Abelson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the goal of making smart phone programming accessible to everyone. The student projects will focus on building socially useful, place-based mobile apps.

Morelli, who is spending a sabbatical leave at MIT, is in the process of developing teaching resources and the curriculum for the project. A member of Trinity’s faculty since 1985, Morelli says computer science is a good discipline for high schools students to acquire because “it teaches them to think logically and abstractly and to break down problems into parts and solve them.”

This project builds on Trinity’s Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) initiative, which, since 2007, has been engaging undergraduate students at Trinity and other schools in building free software for socially beneficial applications. The hope, according to Morelli, is to get high school students excited about building open source mobile apps that benefit their communities.