Local teachers increase equity in computer science HRVHS offers new computer science courses for all students

First published on Hoodrivernews.com on Friday, December 7th. At Hood River Valley High School, Amy Foley and Kathryn Davis each teach a new elective class called Exploring Computer Science (ECS). It’s designed to help increase equity and create opportunities for students who may have had no prior exposure to computers.

“I think it’s a really good class because everyone’s starting at the same level, especially for our school because no one has had (class) experience with computer science. So everyone in our class is at ground zero, and no one feels like you’re left behind,” said Grace, one of the students in Foley’s class.

Dec. 3 marked the kickoff of Computer Science Education Week in Oregon, an annual program dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take interest in computer science, said a press release. Foley and Davis lead by example in this rural area of the state. Today, students are journaling, mapping-out storyboards and will begin writing HTML for their website projects, which they will create from scratch. Students are able to design a website based on their personal interests, but they won’t be using any template shortcuts so that they can learn the basics of how to write HTML, the computer language used to create the layout and appearance of websites.

“I enjoyed how simple it was to understand HTML and CSS. I thought it would be complicated,” said Isaac, a student in Davis’ class. Another student, Alexandra, said, “I thought a class like this could prepare me for the future when I might want to create a website or know about programming. I could do a lot of things for myself instead of having to hire someone, and know what I’m doing.”

The ECS class evens out the playing field, helping students without prior knowledge gain the computer fundamentals they need in a fun, relatable way while preparing them to succeed in whatever career path they choose, said a press release. The class is required in some of Oregon’s high schools and is offered as an elective at Hood River Valley High School.

While the course is designed for all genders, looking around the classroom, one sees many girls (about a third are girls in Foley’s and a fourth in Davis’ classes), more so than in other rural areas of Oregon where they have a harder time recruiting girls for CS classes.

“Traditionally, women and students of color have not been represented in ways that are proportional to school demographics,” said Jill Hubbard, CS for Oregon co-leader and president of the Oregon Computer Science Teachers’ Association.

Foley said of her class, “I have a lot of female students who are really enjoying the camaraderie that has developed in the ECS classroom amongst themselves. They are excited to learn together and feel comfortable expressing themselves through projects that combine their computational thinking skills and creativity.”

About 32 percent of Foley’s and 41 percent of Davis’ classes consist of minority students. When asked if she would recommend the class to other Latinas like herself, or other women of color, student Aileen said, “Yes, yes, take it! I feel like it’s not what it seems like; it’s a lot more fun. I want to do computer engineering or some type of engineering, so I find this class super helpful.”

Both teachers are part of a network of school districts across the state participating in CS for Oregon, a joint university project between Portland State University, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, Cascades. According to a press release, they are committed to broadening participation in computer science by providing a welcoming and inclusive environment that is equitable, rigorous and engaging. These learning experiences are designed for all students across Oregon’s rural and urban areas, preparing them to participate actively in a digital world and economy. “Computer science is now essential knowledge to participate fully in society, and yet participation in Advanced Placement CS shows CS is the most segregated discipline by race and gender of all AP subjects in Oregon,” said James Hook, CS for Oregon co-leader and associate dean of the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science at PSU.

“We have been teaching computer science in high school in Oregon for over 50 years, but more through the lens of enrichment for some, rather than essential knowledge for all,” he said. “ECS brings best practices in inclusive pedagogy and teacher professional development to the CS classroom.”

Using a $1 million National Science Foundation grant award, CS for Oregon trained its first group of ECS teachers in 2018, a curriculum co-developed by Dr. Joanna Goode, CS for Oregon lead researcher and professor at University of Oregon. Partnering with 16 of Oregon’s school districts in 2018, the program will expand in 2019. “My classroom contains all rural students, (many) females, students in the racial minority, as well as students with disabilities. All students have a path to success with this curriculum, and it is easy to differentiate for learners at different levels,” said Davis.