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UC Santa Barbara Brings Innovative Computer Science Curriculum to Local Schools

Researchers have been piloting a program that focuses on how elementary school students best learn skills

Danielle Boyd Harlow, a UC Santa Barbara associate professor of science education, and fellow faculty members, have created Kids Engaged in Learning Programming and Computer Science as a new curriculum for fourth- through sixth-graders. “Coding is everywhere right now,” Boyd Harlow says. “The exposure early will help the broader population. We wanted curriculum to be applicable to all students.” Click to view larger
Danielle Boyd Harlow, a UC Santa Barbara associate professor of science education, and fellow faculty members, have created Kids Engaged in Learning Programming and Computer Science as a new curriculum for fourth- through sixth-graders. “Coding is everywhere right now,” Boyd Harlow says. “The exposure early will help the broader population. We wanted curriculum to be applicable to all students.” (UC Santa Barbara photo)

UC Santa Barbara researchers are some of the only ones in the country studying computer science education at the elementary level, and local students are benefiting from their efforts.

Monte VistaPeabody Charter and Washington elementary schools in Santa Barbara are piloting a fifth-grade version of curriculum developed by researchers to help understand how children best learn computer science.

The program led by Danielle Boyd Harlow, an associate professor of science education at UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, is in its fourth year of funding from the National Science Foundation.

Harlow developed the 12- to 15-week program, Kids Engaged in Learning Programming and Computer Science, with help from former UCSB computer science faculty member Diana Franklin, who’s now at the University of Chicago.

That’s how the curriculum found its way into Chicago schools as well as others in Ventura, San Diego and San Jose.

Hope and McKinley elementary schools also participate locally using the fourth-grade-specific program, which at this point is available to any teacher via free online download.

“Coding is everywhere right now,” Boyd Harlow said, noting curriculum helps “just to understand they are capable of being computer programmers. Nationwide, most computer science majors are males. The exposure early will help the broader population. We wanted curriculum to be applicable to all students.”

UCSB’s curriculum is mostly taught by classroom teachers or computer teachers to a mix of boys, girls and English language learners.

It involves computer exercises and block-based programming reminiscent of Legos that helps kids create longer lines of code or scripts in La Playa. What they learn could help students develop games or apps in the future.

UCSB’s Kids Engaged in Learning Programming and Computer Science curriculum is mostly taught by classroom or computer instructors to a mix of boys, girls and English language learners. Click to view larger
UCSB’s Kids Engaged in Learning Programming and Computer Science curriculum is mostly taught by classroom or computer instructors to a mix of boys, girls and English language learners. (UC Santa Barbara photo)

Most kids don’t gain any coding experience until they get to college, Harlow said, which is why UCSB’s curriculum received a shot in the arm when President Barack Obama earlier this year emphasized the importance of getting hands-on computer science and math training.

The sooner, the better, Obama said in his final State of the Union speech, launching the Computer Science for All Initiative to increase access to just such courses.

UCSB graduate student Ali Hansen, who teaches a computer science course at Hope School, said more teachers than ever have shown interest in using the local module.

“It’s been really exciting,” she said. “The kids love it.”

Grant funds for the program run out soon, but researchers are applying to others in the hope of expanding the program in different ways.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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