With demand high for workers with computational skills, schools are looking to add computer science courses at earlier ages. But given the limited time in the school day, CS must compete with core subjects such as English and math. This time squeeze is even more difficult at schools with a high proportion of English Language Learners, students learning English as a second language. Given these constraints, can teachers use the common ground between computer and English literacy to teach both subjects simultaneously?
That’s the question asked by a collaboration between the University of California, Irvine, University of Chicago, and public schools in Santa Ana, San Francisco, and Chicago, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program. With a $4 million grant over five years, a team of researchers including Prof. Diana Franklin, research associate professor at UChicago CS and director of computer science education at UChicago STEM Education, will develop, pilot, and implement a new curriculum designed to promote both computational thinking and language arts in young students
The researchers hope that doing so will expand access to computer science at early grades, before disparities develop for students with disadvantaged backgrounds.
“We think it's really important to do computer science instruction early, but it's hard to justify it in the school day,” Franklin said. “Finding ways that we can use computer science instruction to also help other subjects is a way to get it into more schools, so that more students can get access.”
The new curriculum will combine existing programs built separately by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Franklin’s CANON research lab. Both started with the Scratch visual programming language and the Creative Computing Curriculum Guide, developed at Harvard University. SFUSD integrated this program into their english and language arts curriculum, where students use Scratch to learn about the structure of stories and genre. A UChicago study led by CS graduate student Jean Salac found that this curriculum improved computational knowledge, but with a performance gap between students at high-performing and low-performing schools.